My neighbor lay in my arms, the winter sunlight streaming through the window. As I stroked her long, dark hair absentmindedly, I thought to myself, “How did we get here?” She turned and looked up at me and, as if reading my mind, we kissed, giggling, with our noses touching.
If chronology is important, my husband knew Lorena, the neighbor in question, first. They were high school acquaintances who reconnected at a mutual friend’s boozy bingo birthday. Of course they hit it off, and he was upfront from the beginning. “My wife and I are polyamorous.” Disclosing right off the bat was new for him. “I just felt like I needed to tell her,” he said, as soon as he came home to me. “There was something there. That thing you can’t explain.”
He and Lorena began hanging out in restaurants on Friday evenings, kissing goodnight as he walked her home. Once he even drove thirty minutes away to replace her iPhone battery when it died unexpectedly. They were dating, and unlike his other girlfriends, she and I spent time together, kids in tow. I hadn’t crushed on a neighbor since dorm room living ten years prior, and that ended badly, so I was hesitant to even explore anything other than friendship. Besides, she was straight, and I have a rule: don’t date straight girls.
I have a rule: don’t date straight girls.
Lorena casually dated my husband all throughout Autumn. She joined him for drinks after his football games and even snuggled up on our couch to watch trashy reality TV. Our families became closer than ever, with the gaggle of children running and dogs manically barking at passing cars. We carved pumpkins. We made more take-n-bake pizza than is humanly healthy. And then one day, at the beginning of winter break, she sat on my lap and confessed her feelings toward me. She hadn’t felt this way toward a woman before. “Maybe I’m, like, hetero-flexible,” she said. I looked into her glacier blue eyes and knew that straight girl or not, I loved her in a way I hadn’t felt with anyone besides my husband.
For me, polyamory isn’t about an insatiable sex drive. Instead, it’s a deep longing for community, paired with the belief that people are beautiful individuals that can come and go, but can never be replaced. If my husband weren’t in my life, there wouldn’t be someone who could fill that hole in my heart. And as an introverted mom with two young children, online dating is a challenge. So many profiles to weed through. Messages to read. Perpetual first dates. Actually putting on pants, going out to dinner, and mustering the energy to give 100% attention to a new person for a few precious hours feels daunting.
But dating my neighbor? This felt like being at home. Six doors down felt like my own living room. I’d swing by with the kids after work, she and I would drink beer, order pizza, and then I’d pack up to head home for bedtime. One evening my precocious five year old tiptoed out of the house, ran down the street, and barged through their front door. “Can Jamie play?” he asked sweetly, ignoring the flabbergasted expressions on the adults’ faces. I followed a few minutes later, wearing mismatched shoes, hair a mess, and with a diaper-clad baby hitched on my hip. It was like our own communal compound. Minus the bonnets and homemade butter.
It was like our own communal compound. Minus the bonnets and homemade butter.
The months flew by and our triad — her dating my husband, her dating me, the three of us together — shared sweet moments stolen between refereeing children’s squabbles. Mostly there was humdrum daily life, nothing off limits, including picking lice out of Lorena’s hair — twice — when it ran through both houses, thanks to daycare use. With summer break looming on the horizon, I began fantasizing about lazy days in the sunshine, floating in their pool with a beer in my hand.
Then, Lorena’s husband approached me cautiously, like a baby colt. I had always found him charming, with alabaster skin and a macabre sense of humor, paired with our mutual love for social experiments. Maybe he was motivated by jealousy, seeing the emotional connection and sexual chemistry our triad shared, or he could have been merely curious, fulfilling his own long-held fantasy. Either way, I jumped at the opportunity to join him and his wife, my girlfriend, in the bedroom. The sex was mind-blowing, the kind I’d write home about, if my parents weren’t fundamentalist Christians, that is.
The sex was mind-blowing, the kind I’d write home about, if my parents weren’t fundamentalist Christians, that is.
Non-monogamy is like swimming in open water. It can be hard to stay afloat in ocean swells of emotions, but my husband and I had almost five years of training to paddle through the jealousy, regret, shame, and desire that can surface. We knew we could ride the waves together. Sharing is hard, just ask any five year old. So there we were, all four of us adults trying to navigate individual relationships, the threesomes that had developed, and the overarching friendship that encompassed all of us. Eventually it resulted in a cuddling couch conversation, where I said to my girlfriend, “We need to take a break or something, ’cause the goal is to expand love, not wreck it. Your marriage should be first. You can’t learn to swim if you’re drowning, ya know?”
“Oh gosh, it sounds kind of crazy,” my closest friend said over wine one night. Swirling my stemless glass, I shrugged my shoulders and laughed, saying, “Well, you know, Taylor Swift and I have the same birthday.” I crave life. The good times are exhilarating, leaving my skin tingling with joy. The hard times are heartbreaking. There are days I hit my hands on the steering wheel out of frustration and sob into the universe asking “Why is this so hard? Why? Why? Why?” But after the heartbreak come the stories.
Sometimes I long for those lazy afternoons, the sound of children in the background, with us talking about our lives. I wish she was around to go with my husband to soccer games so I didn’t have to. It felt like someone was truly on the inside with me, understanding what my life was really like, as we shared mutual eye rolls at annoying male behavior. Nobody else could crawl inside my life and walk around in the way she did. And now she’s gone. Except not gone. Six houses away. But I don’t regret dating my neighbor. I chose love. I’ll choose love every time. Especially if it means sweet soft kisses in chilly winter sunlight.
Jenna Fox is described by her community college students as “sympathetic, but with a blunt sense of humor.” She is currently writing a memoir of adoption reunion, and podcasting about the things that annoy her. An experimental sociologist at heart, her quirkiest accomplishment was a year spent barefoot.Listen to the podcast and read her essays at www.thejennafox.com.