Non-monogamy is wreaking havoc with my abandonment issues. Please don’t think I’m embarking on one of those journeys of revelation where I talk about going off and being sexually adventurous and then discovering that sex with assorted people left me feeling cold and empty and what I had really longed for the whole time was the stability of a committed, monogamous relationship straight out of the last 5 minutes of all romantic comedies ever. This isn’t that kind of story. I love the direction my love life has taken. Frankly, It’s other people’s open relationships that will most likely be the death of me.
When I realized I had no interest in monogamy and even less interest in commitment my dating landscape changed dramatically. It took some doing, I kept attracting dudes who wanted rings and babies so I fine-tuned my OkCupid profile. I dispensed with the niceties and opened with a definitive statement instructing folks who are looking for someone to marry to keep walking (Thank you Mario, but your princess is in another castle), I told folks I was looking for men who were sharp enough to keep up with me and down for a couple of beers. Also mentioned Sex at Dawn which, in online dating, is like throwing up the non-monogamy Bat Signal. Suddenly my inbox was full with messages from every guy in a 50 mile radius who identified as “poly,” called their relationship “open” or knew who Tristan Taormino was.
At first this seemed ideal- if they already have a full-time partner* they wouldn’t want anything that I didn’t want to give- huzzah!
Not so fast…
My greatest fear in every relationship ever- be it with a friend, a lover or a barista- is being abruptly abandoned. Left without explanation, completely cut off. I spend a disproportionate amount time concerned that things I have said and/or done were wrong or bad, that I have committed an offense punishable by death of relationship. Prone to what my shrink called “catastrophizing”, I spend a lot of time apologizing for things that frequently have offended no one and even more time trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. I won’t text (text not call, partially because of what I’m saying right now and partially because I abhor the phone) if I think the other party is busy- Because apparently I fancy myself cell phone Kreskin. I’m not out to step on anybody’s toes.
I learned very quickly that when you date someone who already has a partner there is a whole other set of toes to worry about stepping on. Two weeks into a new relationship I received a request from a gentleman’s spouse to stop wearing perfume when I saw him. It struck me odd because the last time I wore perfume it was CK One and I wore it with my catholic school uniform…I didn’t know what to make of it but what I did know was that I had done something that upset someone. I became obsessive about being unscented when my friend came to visit.
A few months later someone I was having a perfectly splendid friends with benefits relationship with told me that, even though I was set to move cross-country in a month, his partner wanted us to stop seeing each other NOW. We spent that last night together lamenting the situation. We both recognized why we had to stop seeing each other- I know how important his relationship with his partner is- but all the same neither of us had chosen to end it and frankly, given the choice, I think we agreed that we would have happily continued until I left. The whole thing just sucked. I remembered the perfume thing and decided that this must have happened because, like in that situation, I did something that irked this woman and suddenly I felt awful. I wasn’t sure what I did but obviously it was bad. Clearly this was all my fault.
Dating the non-monogamous has taken my biggest fear and multiplied it. My belief that folks will decide to cut me out of their lives now came with the added fun of knowing their partner could also decide that I should go. No longer enough to just worry that my friends will bolt, I now worry that that their partner will be the one firing the starter pistol. Yes, I know this is not a healthy way to view the situation. I know that there are things that happen no matter who you date. Sometimes folks just stop calling, sometimes people lose interest, sometimes they just aren’t that into you, I know all of this but there’s something in my head that can’t ignore the voice telling me that each relationship comes with multiple people who could dump me. Pair this with a string of relationships that abruptly became monogamous shortly after meeting me – (seriously, for a while it was like my vagina was where non-monogamy went to die) and I’m a nervous wreck.
So what’s a girl to do? I’ve accepted that monogamy is not an option – the thought feels like a hand around my throat and not in a hot way. I’ve tried dating the guys who say “I don’t mind if you see other people but I’m not going to” and it never ends well. I’ve even tried placing restrictions on potential partners- “nobody who just opened up their relationship”, “no one with kids”, “no one who drinks Pabst” (that last one has nothing to do with this but it’s important nonetheless) which hasn’t been too helpful. Once in a while I strike gold and find someone just like me- single and not into monogamy (would you call yourself “slutty”? I probably want to date you) but they are rarer than one might think. It’s problematic.
As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think I can fix this by controlling everyone else- I think I have to work on myself (dammit, freakin’ self-improvement!). Here’s where the thing I was just lamenting about non-monogamy becomes the thing I kind of love about it- taking my biggest fear and blowing up to billboard size has made it impossible to ignore any longer. I’ve tried to live around it so long and when it was smaller I could sort of do it – it sucked, but I could do it. Now though, to successfully, responsibly and, in my case, sanely navigate the new landscape of my love life I think I have to bring my best self to the table. Often I get the impression that folks think eschewing monogamy is some kind of cop-out, like I’m taking the easy way out but, seriously, this requires more of me than monogamy ever did. I’ve always been able to just tote the emotional baggage along with me now it seems I may have to actually unpack.
*I refuse to say “primary”, it just reminds me of third grade when your friends was a thing you did “Jennifer N is my first best friend, ShanQuifa is my second best friend…” I can’t handle that.