Written by Fiona Leloup.
Art by Archie Bongiovanni.
Erik and I were perfect for each other. Everybody said so. He made me laugh. We hardly fought. I remember congratulating myself for finding that heteronormative picture of the ideal relationship — the kind of hetero relationship I was raised to believe was the end-all, be-all of every girl’s life.
I’m a white ‘90s kid born to Baby Boomer parents. My dad worked hard to give his family more than he ever had. My mom stayed home to raise the kids. I grew up on a diet of Disney princesses, *NSYNC, and Barbie proms on my sister’s bedroom floor. I learned from an early age that I needed to find a good man to take care of me. Growing up, I chafed at this heteronormativity. I just felt different — or, as my mom always said, I “marched to the beat of my own drum.” Loud, opinionated, selfish, and weirdly excited by the “Toxic” music video, my biggest fear as an adolescent was that I wasn’t normal enough to find a husband. So when I found Erik, I was relieved.
When we got engaged, our elders bestowed many customary adages upon us, all basically saying, “Marriage is hard work.” But we were arrogant and thought we were different. Marriage may be hard for some, but not for us. How different could marriage be, really?
It was REALLY FUCKING different. Getting married showed me how ill-suited I am for marriage — at least the institution of marriage as I was raised to understand it. I’m not necessarily referring to heterosexual marriage in general, I mean heteronormative marriage: two people, committed, monogamous, clearly defined roles.
As soon as I got married, those gender roles I detested growing up crept into my consciousness. I had a clear image of what a “wife” was, and getting married did not turn me into that woman. I’ve never had a single domestic bone in my body, I’m not selfless, I still don’t want kids. Let’s be clear, this was all self-enforced. My inability to live up to that image ate me alive. My lifelong struggle with depression and anxiety exploded out of me like Mentos in Diet Coke. I started cutting myself. I attempted suicide. I took risks with men. Not only was I not acting like a wife, I wasn’t acting like myself.
Now, there’s an important detail I haven’t shared yet: I’m polyamorous and bisexual. The thing is, I didn’t realize that until my late 20s. Sure, as a kid I rewound my Aladdin VHS repeatedly to see Jasmine in her red outfit. But I was attracted to men, too, and “bisexual” wasn’t a thing in my world. Since I was raised believing monogamous relationships were the only valid kind of relationship, I could not understand why feelings of celibacy plagued my hetero marriage. Erik and I always had an active sex life. Why did I feel so empty? Why was sex so important to my self-image?
Then, one day, Erik and I were talking about kinks. You see, marriage was difficult for Erik, too. With a similar upbringing and a risky career change in his mid-20s, he found it difficult to fulfill his own image of being a “husband.” When mental health issues began weighing on our relationship, I started medication for anxiety, and we worked on communication. Erik had to learn how to translate his feelings into words; I had to learn to love myself. Part of this work was having real conversations about sex — beyond what we had learned in Michigan’s poor public school sex education. Erik opened up to me about some of the kinks he wanted to explore. I responded with, “I don’t really think I have any kinks.”
Then my husband looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You want to have sex with women.”
Now, I want to be clear that sexuality is NOT a “kink.” Bisexuality is not a phase. It is a valid sexual identity. But until this conversation about kinks, I had no understanding of my own sexuality. I had no language to express what I needed in order to have a fulfilling sex life. That day, Erik set me free.
That’s when I started thinking deeply about marriage as it is widely practiced. I realized that, as much of a triumph as marriage equality is, marriage traditions have barely evolved to include monogamous same-sex couples. In other words, most people can accept homosexuality as long as it looks just like traditional heterosexuality: two people, committed, monogamous, clearly defined roles. My understanding of what constitutes a “valid” marriage, and misunderstanding of my own sexuality, is what caused much of my anguish. I love Erik. But I was not interested in participating in an institution designed to control my body and sexuality. I wanted to explore relationships with others, including women, but not in the “hook-up culture” model I was accustomed to. I didn’t want to be used, nor did I want to be owned.
Love, sex, and romance are three distinct notions to me. Through engaging in polyamory, Erik and I each have a small set of people who we truly love individually. Some of whom we have sex with. Some of whom we don’t.
But none of my relationships have any bearing on my relationships with others. There’s always room for more individual, unique, deep connections with human beings as people bring their own perspectives into my life. But if there is love between us, there is also respect, caring, and freedom for everyone to be themselves.
Our relationship model is not right for everyone. The best part about it is our central focus on mental health and mutual fulfillment. We’ve done the emotional work necessary to have a healthy partnership. For anyone considering getting married, take the time to make sure the type of marriage you have works for everyone involved. Be open-minded, love yourself, and be willing to build something new if you have to. I’m happy we did.
About the Author
Fiona Leloup (she, her, hers) is a queer intersectional feminist, middle school teacher, LGBTQ student activist, and amateur model/photographer. She has dedicated her career to developing culturally responsive middle school social studies curricula and fighting for systemic changes within her district in order to make schools a safer place for traditionally marginalized students. Fiona enjoys using her writing to reflect on her own personal, sexual, and mental health development. Currently, you can follow her work on instagram.