Polyamorous in New York

What it means for one couple.

Posted May 15, 2019

Goodluz/Shutterstock
Source: Goodluz/Shutterstock

Gus and Trish like to talk openly about their relationship. They tell me: 1) Each relies on the other to feel centered. 2) They love each other with the devotion generally associated with traditional marriage—when it works well. 3) They prioritize the time they spend together above all other social activities. 4) They refer to their relationship as primary and both have sexual partners outside their primary relationship.

I ask, “Does having sex with others dilute the intensity of your experiences together?”

Trish says, “No. Gus is my favorite lover and my best friend. Our connection helps me feel good about myself with him and others. Polyamory expands my excitement about the relationship he  and I share.”

When I ask the question, “Since you share this excitement and depth of commitment, a lot of people would be curious why you aren’t monogamous?” she looks at me as if I had spinach stuck between my teeth.

“We’ve been together for four years,” Trish replies. “I’m 32 and he’s 31. We spend a lot of time together, about four nights a week, but also have separate apartments.  During the time that we’ve been together, I’ve explored relationships with women and men and Gus and I have gone to parties where we’ve made love in the presence of others but not with others. As far as that goes, I enjoyed myself but also felt uncomfortable, so I haven’t returned to those scenes.”

“So,” I follow up, “the answer to the question I asked is that being with others does not dilute the intensity of your time with Gus, is that right?”

“Right,” she says, “He’s my anchor. When I’ve talked to people who are not into ‘poly’ they either say things like, ‘I could never do that,' or, ‘My partner would never be up for that.’ But I also have had friends and others give me props for being courageous.’”

I ask Gus, “What does it feel like to hear what Trish is saying?”

He says, “It affirms the fact that we understand one another well. We have enormous power as a couple because we understand the quality and nature of the commitment we make to each other. A lot of couples—many of them end up separating—never talk about their feelings about their relationship. So that when one of them decides they want or need to talk about something emotional going on between them it automatically triggers dread. We talk about how we feel.  Our commitment doesn’t come out of some canned speech or standard imposed on us from the outside. We don’t take one another for granted. We know what we mean to one another. To me, that’s a big deal.”

Trish says, “Depth of commitment and monogamy have no connection in my way of thinking. For us, being together makes feeling free together come alive.”

She continues, “You know that Sting song, ‘If you love somebody, set them free’? For me, part of loving Gus is supporting his need to explore his hopes, dreams, and identity. I don’t try to own or contain him. Sure, I want to depend on him for a lot of my emotional needs but not at his expense, not by limiting him. In my heart, when he feels expansive about his life and options, it helps me feel hopeful about mine. We both want to keep learning about what we want and who we are. Our love is not a static proposition.”

Gus takes her hand and they each lean forward on the couch across from me.

Trish continues, “We avoid jarring one another. We prepare each other for changes in our schedules. We take precautions and protect our bodies. STI’s are not a part of our lifestyle. We choose our friends conscientiously. We value our mutual freedoms but aren’t compulsive about exercising them.”

Gus says, “Committing yourself to never having sexual experience outside of one primary relationship isn’t what I think of as fidelity. I think of it as a kind of abstinence. Jealousy destroyed my parents’ relationship. Instead of repeating their mistakes I’d like to learn from their experience.”

He goes on, “Old school monogamy is absolutely the right thing for some. I don’t doubt that. But not everyone is suited to it.”  His voice trailed off here and then he resumed, “Vanilla, itself, is a great flavor. I can understand loving it. When I was a kid, to be honest, it was my favorite. I enjoyed it especially with nuts and strawberry syrup. And I crave it sometimes. But if that were the only option, I’d be unhappy. Monogamy, to me, is not so much a choice as a custom that many fall into without evaluating if it can really work for them. I think a lot of people impose it on themselves thinking it is the ‘right’ way to live and the only way to manage their behavior and emotions. I understand that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce and that three out of four married partners, at some time in their relationship, experience being cheated on or cheating. Those statistics give me pause.”

As the conversation continued Trish and Gus acknowledged the desire to raise a family together at some point. Trish foresaw that, “A lot might change if we were to make that decision, including possibly our involvement in the polyamorous community.”

Gus chimed in, “We would have an advantage over many parents, at that point, because we’ve already had a lot of experience having difficult conversations and reconciling differences.”

I welcome questions and comments that reflect your experiences, concerns, understandings, and observations about polyamory.