By Taylor Mata.
Photo by Erica Kapin Photography.
I used to be what some would call a “serial monogamist.” As soon as I would leave one relationship I’d find my way into another. From high school into my early twenties I didn’t think you could have a “real” relationship with more than one person at the same time. I kept getting into monogamous relationships during which I would fall in love, develop a crush, or feel myself drawn to other people. All the while my feelings for the person I was in a relationship with wouldn’t change. I still loved and cared for them. The best I could do was try to ignore any feelings I had developed for another person, or sometimes I would cheat, or just break up with the person I was with at the time. I was convinced I couldn’t love more than one person at a time, so someone had to go.
I ended up hurting a lot of people because of my inability to realize that monogamy was not for me. There were times where I couldn’t ignore feelings I had developed during a monogamous relationship. This would lead to both “emotional” and physical cheating: I would care deeply for three people at once and only be in a supposedly monogamous relationship with one of them. I eventually started to think of myself as some shitty cheater that just went around hurting people. I began to explore casual sex, figuring if I couldn’t be monogamous, what other choice did I have? But, in retrospect it didn’t suit me — all I was getting was sex which left me feeling lonely, searching for more partners to give me tiny bits of intimacy.
I was convinced I couldn’t love more than one person at a time, so someone had to go.
I wanted intimacy, sex, and love, just with more than one person, but I didn’t know that polyamory was even an option. Becoming tired of this draining cycle, I entered another monogamous relationship. About four years into this relationship I noticed one of my favorite tattoo artists on Instagram posting about polyamory a lot. I started secretly researching what it was, reading about polyamorous relationship dynamics and how society deems monogamy as the only way to have a real relationship. It helped me feel less ashamed and alone with the feelings I had been struggling with.
When I was sure that this was indeed part of who I am, I felt it was time to break the news to my partner. Besides coming out as bisexual and genderqueer to my family it was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve had to do. I extensively googled “how to come out to your partner as polyamorous” beforehand. I didn’t want to hurt them or lose them, but I knew that I had to live my truth and that hiding this part of myself was only going to hurt me and our relationship.
Polyamory is all about consent and honest communication.
I told them we needed to talk and tried to make it clear that I was still very much in love with them, that this was something new I was discovering about myself and needed to try because I felt strongly that it was what I wanted. I explained as much as I could and comforted them, reassuring them that this was not an excuse to break up, that I hadn’t been secretly cheating, and most of all that I wasn’t lying to them. After four years of monogamy they initially felt confused, betrayed and hurt. I never meant to be dishonest, but I felt immense guilt for hurting people because I couldn’t communicate my feelings in the right way. I gave them time to process and research polyamory for themselves so they could decide whether or not they wanted to continue to be in a relationship.
After having the time to think and learn about polyamory, we decided to continue with this major transition together. We worked out agreements for telling each other about crushes and dates, being honest about sexual activity for health reasons, and that because we were coming from a monogamous relationship, we would practice hierarchical polyamory. These agreements don’t absolve us from feelings like jealousy, but when those feelings come up, we agree to hold space and listen to each other. We are still new at this, going through the motions, making mistakes, and learning about our boundaries. We both had to rethink what being committed meant, what our insecurities and triggers are, accept the fact that our relationship was going to change in some major way, and that it was okay.
Polyamory doesn’t fix the pre-existing problems in your monogamous relationships. Things like poor communication, selfishness, and secrets all carry into polyamorous relationships if not addressed.
The thing about polyamory is that you can’t force or convince someone to be polyamorous. Polyamory is all about consent and honest communication, without which your relationship could become coercive and unhealthy. Another thing I have learned is that polyamory doesn’t fix the pre-existing problems in your monogamous relationships. Things like poor communication, selfishness, and secrets all carry into polyamorous relationships if not addressed.
Since that first discussion about being poly, I’ve helped my primary partner make a Tinder profile and we’ve had to be more vulnerable with each other than ever. I’ve started dating another person, and I’ve learned to personally assert my boundaries. Our relationship has grown in beautiful and unexpected ways while I developed a new relationship. Dealing with two sets of feelings in two relationships that are in very different stages has been a beautiful experience, but that may just be my Cancer sun, Mercury, and Venus talking. I’m happy and proud to say that realizing my capacity to love and be loved by more than one person has changed my life for the better.
Taylor Mata is a Portland, OR raised and based writer currently in school to become a women’s studies professor. Along with writing personal essays, they write poetry and short stories as a way to process and disrupt colonization’s impact. When they’re not writing or in class, they are steeping tea, reading Octavia Butler, or exploring the city.