Thought Catalog

Polyamory: You’re Doing It Wrong

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The only polyamorous relationship I was ever in ended up being very short-lived, because I’m convinced my so-called boyfriend was doing it wrong. This was a guy I met at a Students for Freethought meeting during my first few weeks of college. He was ten years older, a self-taught philosopher and everything I was physically into at the moment: tall and sinewy, with deep-set eyes and killer bone structure. Imagine Jack Skellington with thick dark hair and sweaters. He smelled like wet tobacco laced with the pungent green smell of good weed, which he smoked slowly and thoughtfully, as men who look like that are apt to do. I found him completely fascinating and made up my mind to sleep with him.

We had sex the following night. My intentions were to keep it casual, but I started to develop feelings for him. You can’t have casual sex when you’re full of feelings.

He was brilliant, witty and curiously charming. We started doing things together that people who like each other do. We visited art galleries and held hands at parties. He picked me up from class and made me homemade soup. At concerts, he kept one hand on my waist in that comforting, protective way and fed me shots of whiskey through open-mouthed kisses.

Everything would have been totally fine and uncomplicated if he had been up front with me from the beginning, if he had just said, “I would like to be close friends and also sleep with you on a regular-ish basis because you’re interesting and hot.” But he didn’t say that. He said “I love you,” and so I expected him to love me. But he didn’t. Whatever “I love you” meant to him wasn’t at all what “I love you” means.

His other girlfriends were older than me. Not by many years but relatively older, considering the incredibly fast aging process you undergo between freshman year and graduation. At first, sharing my lover wasn’t too bad, until I found myself becoming increasingly enamored of him and starting to need things — reassurance, emotional support. Things you don’t want to admit you need from your partner, but the lack of which can reduce even the most composed and reasonable person into a sobbing mess.

The longer I stayed in the relationship, the more clearly I realized that we were all there to fulfill certain fantasies. Different parts of his personality would come alive with each one of us, that’s why one wasn’t enough. The tall, wiry brunette with the sweet face was for drinking tea at home, discussing feminist perspectives on Sartre with Sigur Ros looping softly through a haze of ashen smoke. There was something about her that made people feel warm and taken care of. I often imagined him leaning over her angular shoulder, kissing a wine-flushed cheek as she stirred couscous on a snowy Thursday.

The fireball blonde with sharply-curved lips was for wild weekends, I decided. Like a hummingbird, she gave off the impression that you couldn’t hold her. She was very petite but not the least bit frail. I wondered if she made him feel powerful, being so small. I wondered if he realized she wasn’t as small as she looked.

And me, eighteen. I felt lost and too young, like a freshly-adopted kid whose new mother tells the other kids to “Be nice, I’m sure we can make room for one more” while rearranging their room to fit another bed. The fact that he got in my pants by saying my poetry moved him (among other things, but basically) just goes to show how clueless I was –- I genuinely thought he was serious. My poetry is really only good for moving into the trash.

He had wanted to eradicate jealousy, to make it a non-issue. Unenlightened people get jealous. Possessive people get jealous. I mean, we all agreed to this, we all knew about each other. We were cool with it, right? Even though I realized full well that it was irrational to get jealous, I still couldn’t help but feel neglected. After all, he had said “I love you.” Why didn’t he love me enough, then, to acknowledge my insecurities? Why didn’t he love me enough to hear me out, smooth my hair and make it all better? Why did he only love me on Wednesdays and Fridays?

It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve, when we all found each other at the same party, at the same time, sharing the same man that I realized I couldn’t do it. It was just too weird. Not really awkward or hostile, but strange. Like we were all in line for the same seat on the same roller coaster, anxiously craning our necks, and there he was, happy, laughing; making his rounds: first holding her hand, and now hers. Eyeing the one in the corner he hadn’t slept with yet, mentally putting her on the list. Taking bites out of every slice of girl pie without bothering to actually put one on his plate. I realized that the acidic, vacuum-y feeling lodged in the pit of my stomach was unfiltered jealousy.

I cornered him in the kitchen, mid-sip of chocolate stout.

“So, did you decide who you’re taking to bed tonight?”

That was supposed to be sarcasm, but I got an answer: the blonde had driven the furthest, so she apparently got the bed rights. I realized he did not give half a shit about how anyone besides himself felt, and so turned and silently returned to my beer.

I woke up the next morning shivering on the couch, covered in smeared eyeliner and trapped under a heavy sense of stupid loss. The kind you feel when something awful happens that makes you feel wronged by the world, but was both completely preventable and absolutely your fault no matter how you try to think about it.

I came to understand later that he never loved me, not really. He loved the idea of me, if anything. He loved spending time with me; the conversations, the boozy evenings, the easy sex. But he had no idea who I was, and was content not knowing. He was never there when I needed him, never concerned with my life except for when it involved him. He only really listened to me when I said his name.

What made this experience so particularly hurtful, even in light of all the messy relationship drama in my past, is that he didn’t take care of my heart. He had reached out for it, I dropped it in his hand; he dropped it clumsily among his books and papers. It was an exotic plant he had special-ordered and then forgot to water. A piece of taxidermy mounted in his gallery. I wasn’t a person with feelings, I was #3.

I still don’t think that monogamy is the only way — it really is not. Relationships, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. There are plenty of people out there who can and do make polyamorous relationships work. However, when you’re polyamorous, it’s not enough to just get the “poly” part down — you also have to have the genuine amor. If you’re going to take on the job of having multiple loves, you have to put your heart where your mouth is. Loving someone means more than giving them the time of day twice a week — it means actually caring and engaging. It means making them feel like more than business suits on rotation during the work week. There is a marked difference between lovers and friends with benefits. You can’t just drop the love bomb and not expect it to detonate.

“I love you.” Really, do you? Those words are so deceptively heavy. We throw them around like nothing but rarely consider the impact of their weight. TC mark

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Love a soft person. The ones who are positive, even in the worst of circumstances. Someone whose strength is not in bravado, but in their quiet. Someone who is strong for others because that is what is needed in that moment. Someone who is the moon that soothes instead of the sun that burns. Someone who sees the very best in people even when you think they aren’t worth it. The kind of person who always wants to do the best for those they love.

“I bought this on a whim to read as I was resting for the night, and I do not regret it one bit! Everything about the poetry in this book is amazing, heart breaking, and soul searching. It will lift your spirits on your darkest days. I want to thank the author so much for writing this, as it’s something I will be rereading a lot! Always remember, everything about you is important. You matter.” —McKayla

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Polyamory: You’re Doing It Wrong is cataloged in , , , , ,
  • Anonymous

    A real polyamorous relationship involves all members loving each other.

    • http://twitter.com/Revulu Revulú

       exactly. Despite the title, this essay was not about ‘polyamory’

      • Amber

        Do you have a reading comprehension problem? There are like, 3 whole paragraphs devoted specifically to this point. 

      • http://twitter.com/Revulu Revulú

         so you dont understand what ‘polyamory’ means.   Got it.

      • Amber

        No, I just think it’s really rude to denounce someone else’s experience and say “that’s not xyz because it varies from my own personal definition and experience of what xyz is.” It’s judgmental and regressive.

      • Anonymous

        All thought requires judgment, dumbass.

        Hmm…that explains the lack of brain power amongst leftists.

      • Anonymous

        All thought requires judgment, dumbass.

        Hmm…that explains the lack of brain power amongst leftists.

      • Guest

        Stop denouncing people for being judgmental and regressive! Jerk!

      • gvest

        so you would rather post a condescending reply than an answer as to why you feel those paragraphs didn’t address the top of your satisfaction.

    • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

      not necessarily

    • http://blog.themerchgirl.net Creatrix Tiara

      say what now? Polyamourous relationships take on all sorts of forms. some are polyfidelitious – a closed loop, basically – but not all of them are. Doesn’t make them any less poly.

      I’m conflicted about this article. On the one hand, the guy hadn’t taken the time to be considerate about your needs (from what it sounds like in the article) and the ILY seemed to be lip service. On the other hand – I think the fact that he had multiple girlfriends was a red herring. Mono couples communicate badly (or not at all) too; manipulation still happens.

      And as for not doing the “amor” right…seems to me there was a major case of under communication here, because people love in many different ways. Hell just splitting it to family vs sexual vs friends isn’t very helpful for some intimacies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/antoniowatson Antonio Watson

    Out of curiosity, how many nice guys did you step on during the course of this event?

    • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

      fuck you

      • Lu Zeng

        I was struggling to articulate this very sentiment to Antonio.

      • Anonymous

        I’m sure that’s not the only thing you struggle with, son.

      • Anonymous

        I’m sure that’s not the only thing you struggle with, son.

      • Anonymous

        I’m sure that’s not the only thing you struggle with, son.

      • Anonymous

        I’m sure that’s not the only thing you struggle with, son.

      • Anonymous

        I’m sure that’s not the only thing you struggle with, son.

      • Anonymous

        I’m sure that’s not the only thing you struggle with, son.

      • Anonymous

        I’m sure that’s not the only thing you struggle with, son.

      • Anonymous

        I’m sure that’s not the only thing you struggle with, son.

      • http://www.facebook.com/antoniowatson Antonio Watson

        For asking a question? Wow.

      • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

        for asking a meanspirited and asinine question

      • http://www.facebook.com/antoniowatson Antonio Watson

        The question was objective.

      • Amber

        How the hell was it objective? Where does she say anything at all in this entire post that would make such a question appropriate? Why don’t you go ask that question in the “Uncomfortable Thoughts Inspired by My Roommates’ Rabbit” post, because it would be just as relevant as it is here. 

      • Anonymous

        It’s always appropriate.

        1. If she didn’t have a lot of partners, her inability to understand her position as “random fuck doll # 2” is explained.

        2. A woman’s number matters.

      • Anonymous

        It’s always appropriate.

        1. If she didn’t have a lot of partners, her inability to understand her position as “random fuck doll # 2” is explained.

        2. A woman’s number matters.

      • Amber

        Flagged ya, troll! 

      • Anonymous

        LMAO ROFL.

        OH NOES I GOTS FLAGGED WHATEVERS WILL I DOOOOOOOSS????!!!

        lol. You’re such a dumb women you think that did something to me. What a weak-minded little broad you are.

      • Anonymous

        LMAO ROFL.

        OH NOES I GOTS FLAGGED WHATEVERS WILL I DOOOOOOOSS????!!!

        lol. You’re such a dumb women you think that did something to me. What a weak-minded little broad you are.

      • Anonymous

        It’s always appropriate.

        1. If she didn’t have a lot of partners, her inability to understand her position as “random fuck doll # 2” is explained.

        2. A woman’s number matters.

      • Anonymous

        It’s always appropriate.

        1. If she didn’t have a lot of partners, her inability to understand her position as “random fuck doll # 2” is explained.

        2. A woman’s number matters.

      • Anonymous

        It’s always appropriate.

        1. If she didn’t have a lot of partners, her inability to understand her position as “random fuck doll # 2” is explained.

        2. A woman’s number matters.

      • Anonymous

        It’s always appropriate.

        1. If she didn’t have a lot of partners, her inability to understand her position as “random fuck doll # 2” is explained.

        2. A woman’s number matters.

      • Anonymous

        You mad, ho?

      • Amber

        Oh yeah right, just a perfectly innocent and simple question! My eyes just rolled into the back of my head, so thanks for that.

      • *bob*

        ps: amber…. <3 youre adorable. -xx here.

      • Anonymous

        Never question a female’s slutty actions!

      • Anonymous

        Never question a female’s slutty actions!

      • Anonymous

        Never question a female’s slutty actions!

      • Anonymous

        Never question a female’s slutty actions!

      • Anonymous

        Never question a female’s slutty actions!

      • Anonymous

        Never question a female’s slutty actions!

      • Anonymous

        Never question a female’s slutty actions!

      • Anonymous

        Never question a female’s slutty actions!

      • Anonymous

        Never question a female’s slutty actions!

      • Anonymous

        Never question a female’s slutty actions!

      • Anonymous

        Never question a female’s slutty actions!

    • Guest

      Of all of the articles on thought catalog about females liking ‘not nice’ guys and making bad decisions I think this one deserved that comment the least.

      • Anonymous

        That’s a really esoteric and unnecessarily complicated way of saying something very simply.  Here, try this on for size:

        “Your comment doesn’t really apply here.”

        Lemme guess, grad student?

    • Guest

      explain…

    • ariel

      In my experience, guys that complain that girls don’t like “nice guys” and complain about how they are always overlooked and have so much to offer aren’t actually particularly nice guys. Just sayin’. 

      • Anonymous

        In my experience, women want two kinds of men: the kind they fuck around with and the kind they expect to take care of them without demanding sex.

        Funny how women always want everything for nothing in return.

      • *bob*

        i dont want a man to take care of me. period. i dont care what he expects or hopes to get out of it. im self sufficient. i dont need a man to provide for me and i dont want the feelings of obligation that go with it. i have 2 types of men in my life, friends that i get naked with from time to time and friends that you coudlnt get me drunk enough to get naked with. ever. the friendship is the base. anything else is icing.

    • ariel

      In my experience, guys that complain that girls don’t like “nice guys” and complain about how they are always overlooked and have so much to offer aren’t actually particularly nice guys. Just sayin’. 

  • Christina

    I really liked this, a lot. 

    • Anonymous

      I’ll bet you really love the cock, a lot.

      • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

        Mmmmmmmm cock

      • Anonymous

        Yep, a typical feminist: an easy lay.

      • Anonymous

        Yep, a typical feminist: an easy lay.

  • Anonymous

    This was wonderful. Thanks for the perspective.

  • http://twitter.com/kaimcn Kai

    Amazing. I made the same mistake of  “non-monogamy” in my freshman year and while grateful for the experience, it stung. I wasn’t always the youngest but I always felt like the most clueless.

    • Anonymous

      You still are among the clueless, babe.

      • http://twitter.com/kaimcn Kai

        I’m not denying it, but why?

  • Anonymous

    This is so touching and beautifully expressed. My heart ached for you when you said you felt at fault the morning after. There is no fault in opening your heart, even if your brain should maybe know better.

  • Guest

    i dont know know what to say about this. it was wonderful! and beautiful.

    • Anonymous

      Hilarious. You meant hilarious. And trite.

  • Mars

    killer article.
    descriptions-spot on.
    love it. and you ;P

  • g.

    I’m not too keen on the polyamorous relationships, but I loved this. It was beautifully done and I love the perspective you gave — not over emotional and ranty, but surprisingly calm and honest for the situation. It really felt like a genuine “thought” writing…not scripted, not whiney or ventful (not a word, I know), not faked.

  • Sophia

    This was absolutely wonderful, and despite never having been in this situation, I felt like I could completely relate. Stephanie, you are just wonderful.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=704016484 Joe Ott

      i agree with this person. this is really, really good.

    • Anonymous

      You mean Mila ;) but thanks!!

      • Sophia

        Ahaha I must have opened this at the same time as one of Steph’s articles :) In any case, I meant you!

  • http://mrianmbelcurry.tumblr.com/ Mr. Ian M. Belcurry

    damn, really good

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    Ouch. This sounds like an open non-relationship than polyamory but… I get what you’re saying. Live and learn, eh?

  • Anonymous

    Psh the only poly relationship that works is the Mikael Blomkvist/Erika Berger/her husband love triangle. Obvi.

    • Dudewhat2k11

      tilda swinton, her husband and her boyfriend. hello.

      • spinflux

        I thought Tilda had a female lover.

      • Amber

        She might have at one point in time, but her lover right now is male.

      • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

        Why didn’t I know Tilda Swinton is fucking awesome until just now?  

      • Anonymous

        The fact that you think someone is “awesome” based on their sexual choices shows that you value people based on their alleged sexual preferences. But, like a hypocrite, I’ll bet you get mad when other people do it, but negatively, about homosexuals.

      • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

        so do you want to do it or what

      • Anonymous

        Silly little ugly whore. 

      • Anonymous

        Silly little ugly whore. 

  • Anonymous

    Psh the only poly relationship that works is the Mikael Blomkvist/Erika Berger/her husband love triangle. Obvi.

  • TS

    I loved the final few lines.  So true.

  • http://twitter.com/gracielleadeux GREYSH!

    This is captivating. Nice writing. :)

  • http://www.badbadbad.net jesusangelgarcia

    That was beautiful. It’s all about “taking care of the heart.”

    Whiskey kisses are a close second, though.

  • http://www.badbadbad.net jesusangelgarcia

    That was beautiful. It’s all about “taking care of the heart.”

    Whiskey kisses are a close second, though.

  • http://www.badbadbad.net jesusangelgarcia

    That was beautiful. It’s all about “taking care of the heart.”

    Whiskey kisses are a close second, though.

  • http://www.badbadbad.net jesusangelgarcia

    That was beautiful. It’s all about “taking care of the heart.”

    Whiskey kisses are a close second, though.

  • http://www.badbadbad.net jesusangelgarcia

    That was beautiful. It’s all about “taking care of the heart.”

    Whiskey kisses are a close second, though.

  • http://www.badbadbad.net jesusangelgarcia

    That was beautiful. It’s all about “taking care of the heart.”

    Whiskey kisses are a close second, though.

  • Guy

    This was absolutely wonderful to read. Dare I say poignant?

  • http://miriammogilevsky.wordpress.com Miriam Mogilevsky

    Great article.

  • ariel

    I really liked this.

    I also kind of think this guy is a sociopath, it seems like he lacks some compassion and empathy…

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