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Alithea Howes
February 07, 2017 7:00 am

I’m running a little behind getting ready for my date, but that’s okay because the bar is around the corner. I’m getting dressed when my boyfriend, Johnny, comes home. He looks a little harried but he gives me a quick kiss hello.

“I’m in a little bit of a rush,” he tells me. “I wanted to change before my date, but I should be okay. I’m meeting Emma at the bar around the corner in half an hour.”

“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, whoops.” I bite my lip and look at my boyfriend. He’s got one leg in his pants, but he stops to look up at me.

“Is that where you’re meeting Dan?” he asks.

“Yup.” There’s a long, awkward, pause. We don’t really have another bar in our neighborhood.

“Well,” my Johnny shrugs. “I guess we’ll just sit in different parts of the bar.”

Being poly is not without its awkward moments.

We, as a society, don’t know how to be poly. We barely know how to be monogamous, but we see models of it every day. Every TV show, almost every movie, almost every book, almost every relationship we see around us, shows us how to be monogamous with varying degrees of success. Polyamory is rarely talked about, and still pretty new for lots of people.

When you’re in uncharted waters, you’re going to run aground sometimes — but being poly got a lot less awkward when I started dating Johnny.

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With any other boyfriend I’ve had, this scenario would have been a HUGE problem. I would have been lectured on how irresponsible I was — how unfeeling and inconsiderate — because I did not pre-arrange every detail of this date and clear it with him first.

One ex would have told me that I did this on purpose because I secretly wanted to break up with him. Another would have scheduled a specific date on which we would talk about this, process this, and make new rules to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. Another wouldn’t have wanted to know I was on a date and wouldn’t have told me he was on a date — and we all would have spent a long, uncomfortable, night hanging out as “friends” while his date stared daggers at me.

Because a lot of people are bad at being poly, or they don’t really want to be poly, or they don’t want the same kind of polyamory that I do.

People don’t realize that polyamory comes in many different variations — and if you want it to work, you need to know what kind of polyamory you want. And you need to ask for it, explicitly, before either of you gets too attached.

When I started dating Johnny, I’d been poly for about ten years. I had crashed and burned enough to know what I did and didn’t want. I wanted a strong, loving, committed, relationship with someone I desired to build a life with, who was fine sleeping with other people. I didn’t want it to be a secret. I didn’t want to have rules and long, exhausting, talks. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things; it’s just wrong for me.

More than anything, I wanted my polyamory to not be a big deal. I wanted a boyfriend who thought of my dates the same way he thought of my friends.

I’ve felt this way since high school. In fact, one of the first friendships I had in college began when we found out that we both didn’t believe in monogamy. We’d never heard the term “polyamory” but we’d come to the conclusion, at 18, that “relationships were bullshit.” Which is the way an 18 year old says, “I don’t want to be monogamous.”

“If I went out tomorrow and had lunch with Sheila, would you be offended?” My new friend asked, by way of explanation. “Would you suddenly be insecure about your lunch-having skills?”

We were 18 and thought we were smart enough to justify our feelings with logic. That’s not really how feelings work, but the metaphor still works for me. No, sex and lunch are not the same. But having lunch with someone can be an expression of friendship, and I can’t imagine begrudging my friend having a friendship with someone else. In much the same way, I don’t want to stop someone I love from loving someone else. That’s what polyamory is to me: Giving myself and my partners the freedom to love other people.

So now I wake up every morning next to someone I love, and usually it’s Johnny.

He wakes before I do, and talks to me until I’m awake. Usually, it’s about comic books or whatever podcast he was listening to in the shower. I stretch to wake up, and he makes a guttural growling noise that’s his shorthand for “My god, you’re so sexy.” And I chuckle slightly, because it happens every day — and I know I’ll never get tired of it.

He’ll ask me if I’ll be home that night because neither of us is very good at remembering things. And usually I’ll say “yes,” but sometimes I’ll remind him that I’m seeing someone. Sometimes I have to remind him who that someone is. And whether or not it’s a friend-someone or a date-someone, he always says, “Oh, great. Have fun.” If it’s a date-someone, he also asks if I’ll be home that night or just see him tomorrow. And I do the same if he’s the one who has a date that night.

That’s how we communicate. It goes so smoothly I feel like I’m forgetting something, or like I’m getting away with something. In other relationships, I’ve spent so much time planning, bargaining, setting up Google calendars, and fighting over who is getting more time with whom. But that doesn’t happen with us. I think I’ve canceled one date because Johnny was having a really stressful day and needed my support. He didn’t demand it. He didn’t expect it. He didn’t tell me that a good girlfriend would have done it already.  He just told me what he needed and asked if I would mind. I knew this was an anomaly so I didn’t mind at all. I didn’t worry that I was ceding ground or setting precedent. This isn’t a legal battle, it’s a relationship.

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This isn’t to say that we’re more highly evolved or found the One True Relationship.

We just found the right relationship for us.

I’m not a robot; I’ve felt jealousy. I’ve been so jealous that it consumed me. It made me angry and bitter; the kind of screaming monster that locks herself in a bathroom crying. The kind of “crazy bitch” that douche-y guys warn each other about. But that’s because I was dating terrible guys. I was dating the kind of men that are confusing at best, villainous at worst. I was dating men that never gave affection unless it was followed by harsh periods of distance or downright cruelty.

I don’t know how to have a good relationship with a person like that. Jealousy cannot exist without insecurity, and I don’t know how to feel secure in a relationship like that. I don’t know what works for other people, but I learned the hard way that jealousy was — to me — the biggest sign that I should leave.

Johnny, on the other hand, is affectionate. Johnny is kind. Johnny is utterly crazy about me and has no problem saying so. We both say “I love you” a dozen times a day. The only time Johnny has ever made me jealous was when he went out and I was home sick. I was really tired of eating chicken soup, so I felt a little pouty because he was out having burritos. I was sure they were the best burritos ever.  They weren’t, of course — they were just good burritos. Jealousy has a habit of blowing things out of proportion.

But I never worried that Johnny was trying to replace me or that anyone he dated would be so much better than me. Sure, they’d be different. Sure, they’d give him things that I couldn’t. But that never meant they were a threat to me.

Which is why when we ended up booking dates on the same day, in the same place, we just had a laugh about it.

We introduced everybody, then went off on our separate dates. And it didn’t really matter that we were only about ten feet away.

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