[OPINION] Polyamory and the nuances of having multiple partners

I’m potentially polyamorous. It feels more natural for me to love and commit to several partners rather than one. And my conviction with my “relationship orientation” became stronger when my five-year relationship ended.

My five-year ex and I talked about my polyamorous-ness during our third year together. She was unsure about the idea at first. But eventually, she agreed to try it out. Our friends were, expectedly, indignant about this.

“Why did you allow him to do that?!” they screamed at her.

“She’s such a great woman! Isn’t she enough for you?!” they screamed, even louder, at me.

But polyamory, to me, is never a matter of “enough.” It’s never about having more.

It's something I’ve often explained to the few people I’ve confessed my relationship orientation to. Even then, most could only give me confused stares or jokes about converting to Islam.

I can't blame them. We’re bombarded by social cues and messages that claim romantic happiness can only be found in 18th-century-style nuclear marriages.

Google, Reddit, and books like The Ethical Slut were my only empathetic confidant, my only avenues for advice and understanding. It's especially isolating since I haven't yet physically met anyone whose feelings work as mine does.

Anyway, since we loved each other, my 5-year ex and I ignored our friends and proceeded with our experimentation.

As I grew closer to other women, I realized that my feelings for my girlfriend never changed. Instead, it felt more like I was growing as a person. I was learning a lot from different partners and I could channel this growth to my existing relationship, which grew further as a result and fed it back to the cycle.

In comparison, my five-year ex didn’t entertain other guys. “You are enough for me,” she said. I should’ve seen that as a red flag. But I didn’t.

Then she met a guy at a bar, became intimate with him, and suddenly, all her feelings for me were gone. Like water transferred from one glass to another.

–––

At a cafe, a close friend once asked me, “How do your feelings work?”

I showed him three empty glasses. I told him I had three glasses inside me. I didn't know if I had more but, so far, I'd found three. I poured water into each glass. I told him the water was kind of like my emotions, my love, whatever.

When I meet a very special girl, she is assigned a specific glass. And when I become intimate with another person, the glass assigned to her is untouched. That’s hers alone. My feelings never transfer.

It took the pain of losing my five-year ex to another guy for me to realize that not all people are like that with their feelings. Most people can only transfer feelings from one glass to another. They can only have The One.

“But isn’t that tiring? Wouldn’t having multiple ‘genuine’ partners divide your attention and emotional investment too much?” my friend asked.

I agreed that it would divide my time and attention. “But managing time and attention for different girls is a whole other matter. That’s something we all have to work and agree on in the relationship,” I replied.

“As for emotional investment, no. I don’t feel tired at all. Instead, I feel more fulfilled. Because the other glasses in me aren’t left to stale away, unused.”

–––

Over time, I realized that my first attempt at polyamory was a disaster from the beginning. My five-year ex is innately monogamous. Things would never work out if she had to change an innate part of herself just to accommodate me.

Years later, I met a special girl in the middle of the pandemic. We dated for some time. And I might have a relationship with her. But first, I had to come clean.

I might be polyamorous, I told her one night. I like what we have and I want it to work. But my experience taught me that the involved parties shouldn’t be innately monogamous. Otherwise, we’ll both end up in great and terrible pain.

She said she thought she was monogamous. But it’s because she never considered that she can have a genuine, intimate relationship that isn’t monogamy.

But she really liked me, she said. She even rejected two more traditionally-inclined suitors because she went for the person she wanted instead of settling.

Wary that I might be committing the same mistake, we agreed that we would both try dating other people. And we’d always tell each other everything. Honesty and communication were non-negotiable.

Until recently, we’ve both only had a few send-off kisses with other partners. We gauged our feelings. Were we both okay with it? The answer was a confident “yes!”

Then I got farther with a certain girl. After that girl left my hotel room, I called my partner. I figured I had to make a forthcoming disclosure now. I asked my partner to come over, then I spilled the beans. To my surprise, she got angry and she cried.

Then it hit me: Was I forcing another innately monogamous person to accommodate me? Am I repeating my mistake?

“I’m not angry with what you did,” she said later, after making me explain my thought process behind calling her late at night to a hotel room I'd booked for a different girl. (She’d become my closest confidant, and I simply couldn’t wait to tell her). “Just at the execution.”

I wasn’t sure if I was hearing it right. “I shouldn’t have told you about it here? That’s what you’re not okay with? You’re okay with me going farther with another girl?”

She sighed. “We have to lay some ground rules. First, don’t call me on the same day that you’re doing ANYTHING intimate with a different girl.”

I nodded eagerly, making a mental note to have more tact next time. “I understand. Any other rules? I’d be happy to do anything.”

She shook her head and smiled, “We’ll figure out the rest as we go.”

Later, I thought about my five-year ex. It took me more than a year and a half to move on from the breakup. If I go forward with my current partner, I will risk getting devastated like that again.

If my partner sleeps with another guy she truly likes and connects with, would her feelings for me change? Transferred, like water from one glass to another?

Unfortunately, until it happens, we’ll never know.

But she’s willing to take the risks with me, and I with her.

Maybe that’s something constant in relationships: There are always risks, monogamous or not. It’s up to us to take it, and see if we can make it work. – Rappler.com

John Pucay is a writer from Baguio City. He blogs about life and running. He’ll be happy to hear your thoughts: @JPucay (Twitter) or john@johnpucay.com.