Monday, January 23, 2012

Transitioning from Open to Poly

Transitioning from an Open Relationship to a Poly Relationship

Last spring, I, Mimi, developed a crush on a past acquaintance of Marc’s.  Marc and Scott had long ago lived in the same apartment building and hung out a few times, but they hadn’t spoken or seen each other in about 13 years.

 When they became FB friends, I notice something about Scott and Marc’s exchanges that made me sit up and take notice, and so it didn’t take long for me to “friend” him.  After a bit of harmless flirting on each other’s FB walls and a bit of encouragement from a cousin, I sent Scott a message telling him I have a crush on his FB personae.  He responded with a little bit of excitement and a whole lot of trepidation.  He knew Marc and I are in an open relationship but, at the time, had no idea how it works.  He also was not, in any way, looking for any kind of relationship. 

I was persistent, however, so after many FB and text messages, a few 3-4 hour phone conversations, and one spontaneous “date” in an airport during a layover between Denver and New Orleans, we were in a hot and heavy cyber relationship.  Our cyber affair was a lot about sex, but it was also (if not equally) a lot about long and intimate conversations about our lives.

A couple months later, Marc and I were renting a house on the northern California coast for the summer.  Marc had briefly returned to New Orleans for a photo shoot, and Scott and I were having our weekly “phone date”.

Scott was talking about his work when, at one point, he said, “Right now, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy.”  

I chuckled and said, “That’s not what I was thinking.”

There was a long pause.  “Well, what were you thinking?”

I didn’t hesitate at all.  “I was thinking I love you.”

I heard him sort of catch his breath.  Then he responded by saying, “Really?”  I was about to say “yes” when he said, “I love you, too, Mimi.” 

The next day, when Marc and I talked on the phone, he asked me if I told Scott that I love him.  Marc had suggested we were falling in love before, so it was definitely on the radar. 

I said, “Yes, I did. And he said that he loves me, too.”   Suddenly, Marc and I were no longer just having an open relationship; we were doing polyamory. 

The way we—and many others—see it, an open relationship is when partners can have sex with people outside of the relationship.  Polyamory means multiple loves—poly (multiple) amour (love). 
Why the distinction? 

There are poly relationships that are not open.  Multiple partners are in emotionally intimate and committed relationship to each other, but all agree not to have sexual relations with anyone outside of the plural relationship.  Polyamorous, but not open.  On the other hand, there are open relationships that are not polyamorous.   Partners in a relationship can be sexually involved with others outside of the relationship, but there is no emotional intimacy or commitment to others outside of the relationship.  Open, but not polyamorous.

When Scott and I started to feel emotional intimacy and love for each other, and especially when we acknowledged it, the three of us found ourselves in a polyamorous relationship.  Scott and Marc are not sexually or emotionally involved with each other, but I am sexually and emotionally involved with both of them.  Because they love me and I love them, we are poly partners.

We will probably blog in the future about how we are negotiating polyamory with each other, and perhaps ask for a guest blog from Scott now and then, but for now, we thought we’d offer our perspectives on that transition from “open” to “poly”.

So what is it like to transition from being open to being poly?

My ideal for our open relationship involved casual intimate relationships with others, and I had no intention of pursuing a much deeper, emotionally intimate relationship with the women whom I was interested in.   However, I did know that Mimi felt differently, and wanted to pursue this more intimate relationship, if the opportunity appeared.  I figured I would just deal with the feelings that this type of relationship would bring up in me when, or if, the time came.  Hearing your partner say that she is in love with someone else, even in an open relationship, was difficult and scary to me initially.

When Mimi and I opened our relationship initially in 2005, and then re-jiggered things in 2006, we both agreed that we’d each have “veto” rights regarding the other’s relationship with external partners.  I thought I’d be using that in a scenario where it seemed that Mimi was getting “too close” to someone else, which represented, in my mind, a threat to our relationship. 

I think we are influenced by convention and normativity throughout our lives, and one of those conventional, hegemonic “norms” is that people can only truly love one other person at a time.  When Mimi told me that she loves Scott, but that she still loves me, more than ever, it was hard to believe that this could be possible.  I had always told her that yes, it’s tough to deal with insecurities and jealousies that can occur when your partner is physically intimate with someone else, and that, I can rationalize and deal with, but what the Big Kahuna for me was this “LOVE” thing. 

I differ on the definition of what is happening in our life at the moment.  For me, it seems as though since Mimi is in a loving relationship with Scott and since she is also in a loving relationship with me, SHE is in a polyamorous relationship.  I am in an open relationship with Mimi and since I’m not in an emotional or physical relationship with Scott, it doesn’t feel like the three of us are “doing polyamory” per se, BUT since Mimi and Scott have decided to pursue this type of relationship, we all three have to negotiate what for me has been heretofore uncharted waters.  The closest thing we had experienced in the past was when Mimi and I dated a woman for about 9 months The three of us were physically intimate with each other, and had a friendship–level emotional connection, but none of us became so emotionally intimate that the terms “love” or “polyamory” really came up. 

For a while, I felt like Scott got the good stuff without any of the speed bumps – he got to enjoy his relationship with Mimi, while Mimi and I did a lot of difficult negotiation and mutual establishment of boundaries, but once the three of us sat down TOGETHER and hammered out some ground rules and came up with boundaries we were all comfortable with, it was better for me.  I think it was better all the way around. 

In doing this negotiation, I feel as though I’m participating in their relationship, and by default, Scott participates in Mimi and my negotiation, and we all three have a relationship to each other, but I am personally moving forward in what I consider to be an “open” rather than polyamorous relationship with Mimi, while she has a relationship to Scott and to me that she considers “polyamorous”. 

Again, all of the negotiation is work that we both choose to do as we think it helps us evolve as humans, helps us do emotional work that we would need to do regardless, and, in the long, run, will bring us both closer to each other.

So, yeah, it can get complicated, but again, like we mention in most of our blogs, as long as all concerned parties are kept in the loop, are consenting and honest, it can be done well.

I don’t really draw a line between sexual and emotional intimacy.  That is not to say that I don’t sometimes experience sexual intimacy without emotional connection or that I want to f#&k everyone I get close to.  I can be just into the sex part and I have many people in my life I love but with whom I have no interest in being sexual. 

But when the sexual chemistry and the emotional intimacy are there, I go with it.  I want to go with it.  It’s so rare and beautiful, and I really do love that combination.  And that’s exactly what happened with Scott.  Just as it doesn’t make sense to me to cut off my erotic desire for others because of my commitment to Marc, it doesn’t make sense to me to cut off emotional intimacy with others either. 

The transition to polyamory was, for me, the most natural thing in the world.  In fact, it didn’t feel so much like a transition as an inevitable development, and I have told Marc and Scott and a few others that I feel more at home and comfortable in my self now than before. 

Even though it feels natural to me and I have absolutely no doubt that I can love more than one partner (I’ve loved more than one partner before Marc or Scott), that doesn’t make it any easier on Marc (or Scott, for that matter).  Introducing emotional intimacy and the possibility of a long term poly relationship to the dynamic changes everything and requires a whole different kind of work and play to do it successfully.  We’ll get more into this later on the blog, so I won’t go into detail about the nature of the work here, but let me tell you, polyamory takes a shit load of time and energy.  Sometimes I think polyamory should be like getting that RV and touring the country or moving to Florida—wait until you retire and have the time! 

The big difference, I think, between being open and doing polyamory is the perceived threat to the primary partner (Marc in this case).

In a mono-normative culture (a culture that insists that the only viable, moral, natural kind of relationship is one with two people who are monogamous), the dyad (two and only two people) is the only way to do committed, emotionally intimate sexual relationships.  Within this logic, introducing a third person poses an enormous threat.  In our case, this logic says that I, Mimi, am going to have to eventually choose either Marc or Scott to re-establish a dyad.  But if you let go of the idea of the compulsory dyad, and there is no requirement that I choose Marc or Scott, my love for Scott doesn’t pose a threat to my bond with Marc.  I never have to choose so neither one is the other’s adversary or competitor. 

Now, if Scott insisted on monogamy or even an open dyadic relationship with me, then he would pose a threat to my primary relationship with Marc.  I have experienced this in the past—a lover expressing a desire to have me “all for himself”.  In that case, I ended the relationship.  Marc is my primary partner.  That isn’t going to change, so above all else, I protect that bond.  Scott knows and accepts this, and so it works. 

And, so far, both Marc and Scott are willing to do the work and play around this, and I couldn’t be more grateful and thus, committed to Marc and open to Scott.  

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