For Couples Who Are Opening Up

We meet them at a dance party in Provincetown, in between the hoards of boys, boys boys– a lesbian couple. Val and Rachel. 31 and 25, respectively. Absurdly cute, and here for the weekend.

Standing with Val, I watch as Rachel shimmies away into the dance floor. She’s following Blaire, another queer cutie who introduced herself to the group of us with hugs and exclamations of excitement. “I turned 21 during the pandemic so this is all new to me!” she’d gushed, before bobbing away into the bumping crowd.

Rachel soon returns alone, leaving Blaire to gyrate happily with the party boys. I take the opportunity to sate my curiosity. Casually, I ask them,

“So, I take it you two are open?”

The pair exchange a sweet, secretive grin. Without breaking the eye contact between them, they respond in two voices, still grinning:

“It’s been a conversation.”

Clearly, whatever conversation they’ve been having lately has them both excited. For many couples– for my wife and I, when we were younger– talking about opening up is a torment, an ongoing fight. It’s a pleasure to see them emanating joy as they confess their fledgling secret to two strangers.

When we divulge our own truth, that we’ve been actively poly for some years now, their eyes spark with intrigue.

“What advice do you have?” Val asks. “What are your top three tips for couples like us?”

My wife ducks behind her drink, tipping her head in my direction with a bemused smirk. “All you babe. You start.”

I pause, thinking. I want to offer something they won’t hear, won’t read anywhere else. Some nuggets of wisdom that one could only find along our strange path.

Here’s what I came up with.


1. Keep track of energy– where it moves and how it flows.

You are likely, in your poly journey, to take up relationships with other polyamorous people. That can mean getting involved with people who are nurturing other relationships, building families, negotiating the terms of commitments and marriages.

It can mean exposing yourself to other people’s mess.

In any dating paradigm, people are exchanging energy and impacting one another even outside of the time they spend together. But now that you’re thinking about dating while simultaneously co-creating a stable partnership, you’ve got more than your own energy to think about, and more than your own well-being to protect. Your new lover may thrill you, may fulfill you, but if they also drain your emotional resources and tamper with your mood, your left with that much less resource and that crappy mood to share with your partner.

Be on the lookout for a lover who is willing to share their disappointments about another relationship or partner. If on the second or third date your new love interest begins lamenting that her husband just doesn’t understand her, just doesn’t listen to her the way you do, find the nearest emergency exit and plan a route.

2. Love moves at its own pace.

It’s common to try to control the speed at which feelings and connections develop. But is it ever successful?

Not in my experience. I’ve never seen someone develop a crush more gradually in order to accommodate their partner. Think about it– it’s pretty impossible to control the pace of development of your own romantic feelings, let alone someone else’s. Have you ever successfully talked yourself down from an ill-advised crush, or convinced your heart not to get so excited about your newest prospect?

Attempts to control the development of someone else’s emotions or connections are a recipe for anguish, for yourself and for your partner.

If you are not ready to coexist with your partners new feels, then it’s time to get to work on your own jealousy. Look to your partner for support in the gut-wrenching labor of self-work. Voice your insecurities, seek reassurance– but if you ask your partner to stick to kissing their new sweetie until you’re ready for them to have sex, or to put off falling in love until you’ve wrapped your head around the concept, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

“You’re really just asking her to lie to you,” adds my wife.

She would know.

3. You are accountable to your other lovers, not just each other.

As a member of a couple, you are operating from a position of power on the dating scene.

It’s natural to focus first on yourself and your partner. You don’t want to hurt the person you love most. Sometimes, that means you just have to sideline someone else who you’re talking to, because your relationship comes first.

The only problem with that is that you’re being a dick.

Everyone else who you encounter has feelings and needs, just like you, and just like your partner. You might not be able to prioritize anyone’s needs over yours and your beloved’s, but you don’t get to disregard those other people’s needs, either.

Be aware of your impact, on your own love interests and on your partner’s. Say you change your mind about opening up, and you demand a return to monogamy just as your partner is embarking on a new romance. Now there’s a third person in the mix to consider. Should your insecurities spell that person’s broken heart?

Anyone who shares their time, their body, and their love with you deserves your gentleness. They deserve clear and honest communication around desires, expectations, availability. They deserve to be treated as a whole person, not as an experiment or a practice space for your pre-established relationship.

So, get out there and love freely. Share yourself with the world, unburdened by the conventional constraints of couplehood.

Just try not to be a dick about it.

Do you agree with my advice? What other tips would you offer to couples who are opening up?

Photo by Tim Douglas from Pexels

If She Found Me

If she found me and approached me, asking, demanding, I wouldn’t deny it.

I would say:

Sister, you are right. I have wronged you.

Sister, you deserve the truth.

I have been eating bread out of your mouth. I have been stealing from you in a hundred different currencies– in labor-time, attention, emotion, kisses, sweat. He’s your man. All of his resources belong, rightly, to you.

You deserved none of the harm that I’ve done you. Sister, you are blameless.

If she stuck around long enough to hear it, I would tell her: of course he does not love me. You are the only woman he has ever loved.

And if she were looking for specifics, wanted to know how I came upon her man, I would tell her: see the latest indictment of a sitting member of the US House of Representatives for the web address.

Soon she’d have her fill of confirmation. Ready to take her leave of me, she’d wipe the filth of me forever from her hands, and I would tell her:

I am gone from your house, now. This, here, between you and me, is the final exchange.

And.

If she found me, I would swallow back everything I wouldn’t say. I’d withhold some of the finer points, like:

I am gone, but there will be another to replace me. He’ll apologize, he’ll weep, he’ll immolate himself before your feet, promising to change. He might even take a month or two away from seeking. He may truly want to be, for you, a better man.

Did I mention that he loves you? He loves you. He does not relish hurting you. But.

But.

The compulsion in him will not die. I do not take it with me when I walk away.

He’ll fight against it for a while. He does want to be a better man.

But sister, he isn’t a better man.

The need in him is absolute, consuming. It will rise again to devour every other concern in its path. Why else would he have done this to you in the first place? He does not relish hurting you. He loves you.

I won’t tell her that the next girl, and the next girl, and the next won’t care a lick about him, or about her. They’ll show up for the money, and they’ll grit their teeth through every hotel encounter.

Sister, do you prefer it that way? I won’t ask.

If she ever found me, I would eat her hatred and wish her peace of mind, hoping that she’d never find out about the next girl, or the next, or the next.

Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

To Love With Impunity

On my second night babysitting, the youngest of the three wraps herself around my leg and stares up at me with a jack-o-lantern grin.

“I love you,” she says, eyes huge and fixed on mine.

I smile back, but am surprised to find myself uncomfortable at the toddler’s love-declaration. I’m not ready for this yet.

“I’m glad to be here,” I tell her. She goes on grinning and staring, too little to feel any sting.

My intellect knows that she is right. Love is the default state for humans in proximity. We don’t need to know each other well to love one another. Young as she is, she understands this implicitly. She loves freely, with no thought towards protecting her heart. Time and maturity will take this from her, just as it does from all of us. As we grow we deaden our instinct to love automatically, transforming love into a formal exchange between committed parties– family members, the truest of friends, romantic partners who have put in some requisite number of months together.

But we had it right, were wiser when we were tiny children. Before we learned to defend our spirits’ connection sites, we understood that love bonds could be transient. That the giving and receiving of love was no weighty milestone. A one-time babysitter, the new kid in preschool, a puppy walking down the street– each of us once understood the joy of instant and simple connection, and offered it freely and widely to anyone who made us feel good.

But grown folks will do what grown folks do. Confronted with this child’s wise and open heart, I refuse to meet her in simplicity. Some part of me reads an imaginary contract in her words, her eyes, her smile, and rejects her instinct to trust.

I have spent a lifetime learning how to complicate the simple.

Is it too late, now, to uncomplicate it?

Photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels