Tags: polyamory, monogamy, perma-crush, physical encounters, emotional intimacy
Warning: This post contains entirely too much content.
I called the Buddhist a cheater, but I am also one. When you make a promise to your partner to be monogamous, you relinquish all rights to act on desires external to that relationship. You have promised to let your partner be the only one who can attempt to meet your physical (and majority of emotional) needs. You have made a promise declaring that if you slip in any humanly way, then you are no longer trustworthy or deserving of that person’s love.
I have been made to feel terrible about myself for 14 years. I have crammed my overwhelming capacity for love into a tiny monogamist box and told one person to hide it deep in the attic. Instead of allowing it to gather years of dust, however, I became even more determined to locate its hiding place.
What follows is a list of five memories I have been pondering for weeks that have given me clues to my true essence in relationships. Put together, they reveal for me answers as to why my behavior in the past has been frowned upon, scolded, and downright puzzling for some people. I thought everyone felt this way, but I am becoming more aware that perhaps the cheating Buddhist did not squelch my ability to love, but rather freed me to realize I am in love. I have always been in love and nothing can stop me.
Memory 1: I have spoken briefly of my first true love, NoJo (read our backstory here). He was the one who introduced me to an alternative lifestyle of train-hopping, dumpster diving, and, what stuck with me the longest, polyamory. As was true to my nature as a teenager, I was probably dating someone monogamously when NoJo and I kissed in the park, me leaning awkwardly against him, my thoughts sputtering. He was also in a relationship with someone at the time, which he described as an “open relationship.” I had never heard this concept before, but assumed it was a way for people to sleep around and not feel guilty. I didn’t mind. I thought very little of his partner as I fell madly in love with each and every thing he introduced into my life.
We were only together a few short months when he began to travel and explore other parts of the country. I missed him deeply and we always made sure to meet up when he passed through our shared hometown. I could never shake thoughts of him that kept him intimately in my life. I always felt, and still feel, his warmth and compassion very near to me. It’s something I carry into each moment that helps me to battle the pressures of daily life. I am convinced that he was not only my first love, but that I will never stop loving him.
The last time I saw him, we met on the east coast. He was in a monogamous relationship with a woman who despised me. She convinced him to treat me poorly and wouldn’t let him spend time with me, which left me wandering the streets of New York City alone for two weeks as a young 20-something (okay, the Buddhist was there, but I still felt alone). What got me was the compassion in his eyes, though. I saw it as he looked at me over her shoulder. I felt it in the moments we could be alone. I have a string of photographs over my bed and I have kept him closest.
Memory 2: I mentioned that I am a cheater. I have only been in ONE relationship my entire life in which I did not cheat on my monogamous partner. Yes. Based on the promises I made my partners, that makes me a terrible person and I have felt so much more these past 14 years than the word “guilt” can describe. So what possessed me to continue cheating on my partners?
This doesn’t in any way excuse my behavior, but as soon as I cheated on someone, I broke up with him. I even cheated on the cheating Buddhist, again, breaking up with him shortly after. I had a panic attack when I broke up with him. I told him I couldn’t be in the relationship anymore and then he had to comfort me so I could breathe again. I loved you. I loved all of you, but I also wanted to see what the world held in store for me. Who else was out there? What could they teach me about the world?
One of my perma-crushes, the Ambassador, is someone I “cheated” on, though I loved him (and still do to this day). I put “cheat” in quotes, because I never physically cheated on him, but I was emotionally drawn to someone else for a little while and ended up deciding to stay with the Ambassador. Every time I go home, my heart swells with yearning that this might be the time I confess my love for him. Tell him I never stopped feeling those strong emotions. That even though I broke up with him 10 years ago, I still feel the same way. But I’ve kept my emotions hidden. Things get messy, complicated, when people live 2,000 miles away. When around him, I’ve just let my feelings be. I’m not here to mess with people’s emotions.
So when I say “cheating,” what I primarily mean is engaging in emotional intimacy with another person. Yes cuddling, yes spending exorbitant amounts of time together, yes maybe even kissing, but primarily, I let myself fall in love (in admiration?) with them. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is my distrust of physical desire. Desire is not love. I have no interest in engaging physically with another person if there is no emotional or intellectual framework. I physically can’t do it, perhaps relating to issues of trust. I thought for the longest time I just didn’t like sex, but truth be told, I could warm up to the idea.
What made breaking up with these men so difficult was because I still loved them. I didn’t break up with them because things weren’t working out (generally), but because I felt stifled, I felt guilty, and I couldn’t follow the rules of a monogamous relationship. So I carry these loves throughout my life not as baggage, but in a way that they actually help me to feel lighter, carefree, and passionately engaged in the world. I carry these loves into each new relationship with a monogamous person, and I bury them in a place where I’ll stumble upon them occasionally, but I most certainly don’t put them out on the nightstand.
Memory 3: During my two-year relationship with the Playwright (backstory here), I slept with someone whom we’ll call the Stonemason. I pulled my usual, where I slept with the Stonemason, felt terrible, and therefore broke up with the Playwright. The Playwright forgave me. The Stonemason loved me. They wanted me to make a choice. Who did I want to be with?
This was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make in my life. Choose the sensitive and talented Playwright I’d been dating for six months? Or choose the sexy, rugged and promising Stonemason that claimed he had never fallen so hard for someone as he had fallen for me. Maybe I should have felt honored to have the choice between two such wonderful men, but I didn’t. I loved both of them for such different reasons. Even in limbo, I had a great time with each of them and everything felt right with both of them in my life. But the pressure reigned down. They wanted an answer.
I shut down. I became so overwhelmed by the need to choose, that all of my emotions turned off and I felt nothing. They asked if I loved them and I had to say “no.” I no longer felt anything for either of them. I lay in bed. Depressed. I couldn’t cry or laugh or love or care. I thought I was broken before, but this was when I was truly shattered. They told me I had to make a choice and that was the flaw in the logic. I couldn’t make a choice.
Memory 4: Last week I was given the opportunity to spend one beautifully unobstructed week with the President. The President has been an acquaintance for the past four years, but we have communicated more and more frequently. It was when he visited in July that I was really aware of what a kind and beautiful person he has always been. I felt a really strong connection then and, with a few flirtatious phone calls over the next few months, we both became increasingly excited to spend a week together.
We had a few conversations previous to his visit discussing his polyamorous-like navigation of the world and my supposed monogamous nature. Due to this realization, and the distance that often separates us, we knew going into it that there was no long-term potential. I approached his and my weeklong relationship with a sturdy emotional wall in place. I tried to treat it as purely physical, keeping all emotions tucked away, and awkwardly stumbled through the first part of the week. As per usual, it was difficult for me to engage physically without romantic intimacy, but something was different with the President. Though I was disconnected, he was completely emotionally engaged. He had thrown himself into this and wasn’t concerned about the physical nearly as much as I had expected. He cared about me and I trusted him. I completely trusted him. It helped me to realize that I’m not concerned about other people’s physical affairs. What I need to know is that they won’t hurt me emotionally. That they won’t throw me to the curb when they get bored. I need to know that if we have plans, he’ll be there. The physical aspect remains tertiary for me in its definition of the expression of pure desire. I don’t see respect in desire. Where I find respect is in sensuality and this is what the President and I shared.
My emotions weren’t sidelined for long. This beautiful, confident, highly creative person abruptly came into my life and filled it with comfort, trust, and happiness. How could I not be deeply enamored with him? He asked if it would make me uncomfortable if I were to meet other people he was sleeping with. I’ll have to put myself in that position to know for sure, of course, but I have no reason to be jealous. I don’t own him. I don’t mind that he needs other people to quench his desires. I just want to know that he’ll be there for me when he says he will. I need this person in my life.
Memory 5: I’ve had weird responses throughout my life when I try to discuss my perma-crushes. This happens when I explain to someone that I hold (at least) four men in my heart, yet at the same time am dating someone monogamously and pointing out a hot guy across the bar. I’ve been told I’m calloused, that I don’t know how to love, that I can’t love. That I treat men like shit and have no respect for people. That I am a cheater, a floozy, a slut. Okay… if that’s the case, then I think I am, too.
But recently I told a polyamorous friend about my perma-crushes and he said, “See?” He pointed out to me that I have the capacity to love multiple people; I have a wonderful ability to share my love just as strongly with one person as I can another. This got me thinking.
What I am realizing as I write is that these stories are, in fact, not memories at all. They are very real and still very true to this day. I am in love with these men. I have held them so close to my heart that I haven’t been able to keep my emotions in focus long enough to realize that I don’t just have permanent crushes on them, I am in love with them. I can’t be with them, and I have accepted that, but I also can’t let them go. I don’t yearn for them or complain or feel lost. Instead, my love for them helps me to feel connected, comfortable, and strong.
Are my perma-crushes just relationships without resolution? Am I merely holding on to something that will never be realized? Can I really be in love with more than one person? I’m happy to have this space while single to explore what my feelings are regarding a multi-partnership. I’m thankful to have wonderful mentors to guide me through this process (thanks Poly In The Cities!). I’m lucky I haven’t stumbled into a marriage before I realized this about myself. I have time to sort out my thoughts and feelings, and, as many people have put it, to “have fun.”
I don’t think I’ll ever put a label on the way I love, but there must be something to the fact that I can hold the President in my heart, carry NoJo with me every step, and be checking out the Hunter across the way. It’s not something to be frowned upon. I’m not a cheater. In fact, I have felt so relieved this past week; to know that I can let go, stop trying to force myself to fit a certain lifestyle, and just be free to love whomever I want, whenever I want. This doesn’t mean I don’t still long for a primary partner, but it does mean that when I meet him, I’ll be sure to let him know that I’m processing these thoughts.