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I am by no means an expert on non-monogamy, nor am I a certified relationship coach. I'm not going to tell you that one kind of relationship structure is better than the next, because as far as I'm concerned we should all do whatever the hell feels right for us. What I can offer, however, is the beginning of a story in which an extremely anxious and insecure girl found herself in a non-monogamous, same-sex relationship with one of her teachers and idols.
The First Beginning
I can't quite begin to describe how much confidence it required, how much convincing from friends it took, for me to ask my former teacher out on a date. She was everything I ever aspired to be in my field: beautiful and talented, with the most kind and outgoing personality. She was adored by her colleagues, friends, and students. I, myself, idolized her and couldn't help falling head over heels for her. But the problem with putting people up on a pedestal is the feeling of shock, and sometimes disappointment, that comes with discovering that they are not at all what you expected.
Flash forward a few weeks into the school year, and I was in a monogamous relationship with perhaps the biggest crush of my entire life. When it was good, it was great. I was on top of the moon for a while, but it wasn't too long before everything began to fall apart. To my surprise, my girlfriend turned out to be pansexual and polyamorous, while I identified as lesbian and had been monogamous my whole life. She was also quite active in the kink community, a world I thought existed only in romance novels written for middle-aged women in dull marriages. In retrospect, perhaps we jumped into a relationship too quickly and skipped the getting to know each other part. Maybe if we had focused on becoming friends first and hadn't gone from first date into sleepovers every other night, monogamy wouldn't have failed so miserably for us.
The curse of the lesbian U-Haul syndrome strikes again.
I originally felt special because she agreed to try out monogamy to make me happy, but it began to eat away at her. The more anxious and withdrawn she became, the more I pushed for closeness and reassurance, which caused her to pull away even more. I feared that I was a burden to her, that I wasn't good enough, that I was holding her back from being with other people... with men. Our insecurities played off each others' perfectly, and before long the relationship came to an ugly end. We had no choice but to continue working in close proximity, but we made no eye contact and we did not acknowledge each other. To say it was awkward and uncomfortable was a huge understatement; all my classmates and all her colleagues must have pitied us immensely. At that time, the words of a past mentor rang true in my head: "Don't shit where you eat," she said. But it was already too late.
Welcome to Polyamory: The Second Beginning
That awkward lull in my life lasted a few short weeks. Before I knew it, I found myself sitting in a cafe with my ex-girlfriend during the first snowstorm of the year, trying to figure out where we went wrong. Seeing as we broke things off over text message, I expected this meeting to provide me with some sort of closure. I wanted to know if she was seeing other people already. She was. I was saddened, but not surprised. I wanted to know if I meant anything at all to her, and if she missed me.
Somehow during that meeting we came to the decision to start seeing each other again, non-monogamously this time. There's something about her that I'm so inexplicably drawn to, so much so that I forgot how hurt and unwanted I felt in our past relationship. I can't quite describe how I can feel so much anger and yet so much desire for one person all at once. Something told me that this was the right thing to do, that I wasn't ready to lose her just yet.
Now we can get to the good stuff.
Hello Insecurity, My Old Friend
I have now been exploring an open relationship for a couple of weeks, and am learning new things about myself every day. While I understand the principles of polyamory, and why it should theoretically work, it doesn't mean it's easy to make the feelings of jealousy and insecurity disappear just like that.
As a gay woman, I find myself unbearably jealous of my male metamours. I can't explain why my jealousy doesn't extend to females; I don't always have a rational justification for my feelings. Feelings just are. I have a nagging fear inside me that my partner prefers her male partners over me, as they provide her with a completely different sexual experience, and I worry that my lack of phallus somehow renders me less desirable. I worry that I will never truly be able to please any bisexual woman in the way that a man can. I recognize, however, that many of the feelings brewing inside my head are products of my own insecurity, and are not necessarily based in reality. I try to remind myself that the idea behind polyamory is about honouring your partners' individual value, and recognizing that each person you connect with brings something different and special into your life. Sometimes, this can be all too easy to forget.
What I have learned from my first experience with my partner going on a date with someone else is, the jealousy isn't going to kill you! As I sat at home wondering where she was, and what she and her male partner were doing, my heart flooded with feelings of jealousy and sadness. I let myself cry about it. I managed to fall asleep despite my crippling anxiety, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I still woke up the next day! It was not the easiest nor the most pleasant night of my life, but in the end, the jealously didn't kill me.
On our next date, I felt no anger or bitterness. I forgot about how sad I was the previous day, and I simply enjoyed a night out with the person I care about.
In order to not crash and burn in an open relationship, the first step is to actively communicate with your partner. Find a way to connect, develop trust and understanding within the relationship. I find that I express my feelings better through words written on paper rather than communicating them directly to my partner, where I often trip up, stumble, and fail to get my point across. For that reason, I have begun writing a journal of all the feelings I encounter throughout this journey. Every day I chronicle how I felt about one of our dates and my feelings about her dates with other partners. I include questions for us to discuss together, concerns, expectations, and ways for her to give me reassurance and boost my confidence. I even list ideas for dates to help us connect and strengthen our connection. I can also re-read through my journal at any time, analyze where my insecurity stems from, and keep track of my learning and progress. At the end of a week or two, I can give the journal to my partner to read for herself.
By being open and transparent about my feelings, I avoid bottling them up and having them transform into anger later on. Although I can't expect my partner to take responsibility for my emotions, there is something reassuring about having your feelings known, acknowledged, and validated. This way she knows exactly what's going on in my head so that she can provide appropriate reassurance, and we can avoid potentially triggering situations in the early stages of this relationship.
The best part about this story is that it has no ending. In fact, we're only just at the very beginning. I am both excited and terrified to see where this path will take me and my partner. What I know so far is that when we are together now, there is so much less tension than in our previous monogamous relationship. She is more comfortable and happy. Seeing her that way makes me happy. I've just stepped through a door into a big scary world of unknowns, but I'm being patient with myself, and I can only hope she will be, too.