A Guide to Surviving Non-Monogamy

In this guest post for The Queerness, a reader contributes their experience of being a non-monogamous bisexual person and navigating what that means for them.


I’m 36 years old and I have two boyfriends.

 

That fact gets a variety of reactions from people. I’ve had everything from “Oh, you’re poly too?” to people who assume they’ve misheard and carry on speaking to me as though I’m monogamous. I’m not. The thing is, I don’t identify as “poly” either.

 

OK, let’s start at the start. Once upon a time, a surly, obese child hit puberty. I’d been waiting for this to clarify a few things for me. I’d assumed that once my hormones kicked in, I would develop an obvious sexual preference. My mother’s priest assured her that if I did turn out gay, she could love the sinner but hate the sin, so I’d still have a roof over my head. Good to know.

I’d assumed that once my hormones kicked in, I would develop an obvious sexual preference. My mother’s priest assured her that if I did turn out gay, she could love the sinner but hate the sin, so I’d still have a roof over my head. Good to know.

All of this felt academic when I thought about the possibilities of my teenage love life. I had continued to gain weight as I went through high school. A combination of grief, comfort eating and resignation meant I didn’t exactly consider myself a catch. I was the butt of hundreds of jokes. I got nappy rash in my belly rolls. I was a Dana Scully obsessive who never quite figured out if I wanted to be her or kiss her.

 

Although I was attracted to other girls, I knew I wasn’t gay so I followed the path of least resistance. Eventually I managed to find teenage boys who would date me – I didn’t really understand there were other options. When a friend began stroking me and kissing me on her bed with her boyfriend looking on, I went with it. It felt intuitive… until she freaked out, crying that she wasn’t enough for him because he’d pressured her to try a threesome. Sigh. So… it hadn’t been real. Had it? She avoided me afterwards.

 

My twenties were a straight-passing decade of wondering why I could never seem to get the hang of this fidelity lark. My queerness ticked along on the downlow, because nobody expected good white Christian twenty-somethings, lapsed or not, to be on any other path than the treadmill through marriage and kids to death. It didn’t seem optional so I tried to make it work. Abuse also features in my twenties chapter. I’ll skip over the details, but cheating became a weapon. I was cheated on, it hurt. I was abused – cheating was my revenge.

My twenties were a straight-passing decade of wondering why I could never seem to get the hang of this fidelity lark. My queerness ticked along on the downlow, because nobody expected good white Christian twenty-somethings, lapsed or not, to be on any other path than the treadmill through marriage and kids to death.

I knew it wasn’t OK. It felt like another failure to fit in. Too fat, too weird, AND WORSE! Unfaithful. I was terrified of being honest – the old fears about being unloveable kept looming over me, even in a 5 year relationship with A Nice Guy. Perhaps it was partly Catholicism that kept me frozen in a storyline I hadn’t chosen. Dana Scully never had to put up with this shit. She was off being abducted by aliens she didn’t believe in. That sounded pretty good, to be honest.

 

I did the next best thing. I quit my job and beamed myself to New York to date another pale and interesting type. He suggested we have an open relationship, I refused. He was convinced that after surviving an eating disorder I was “way hotter” than him and would obviously be getting “tons of offers” during the periods we had to live apart. I was so smitten, though, and had such low self esteem that I really didn’t believe it was anything but a nice easy way for him to look for something better. He kept panicking on Skype: “You’re going to cheat, I know it. You can’t help yourself. You’re damaged”. I lived up to every single expectation he had.

 

Things were changing, though. I hit thirty at an incredibly low point. Being dumped for the first time and thinking about open relationships sparked some new ideas. Kink, polyamory: new terms and subcultures I’d been too scared to explore. I read vast amounts of blog posts and all bets were off. The worst had already happened – someone I was infatuated with had called me on my crap and I had to either repress it or own it. Time for something completely different.  

 

I began dating a few people without commitment, then one of them stuck. We moved slowly – no promises, just adventures. He wanted to experiment too and confessed he was pretty curious about his own sexuality. We talked and talked, agreeing limits and everything seemed great – sex parties, cabaret, fun. While I angst-ed over being a cliche, a slutty bisexual who wants to sleep around, it was a huge relief to understand what I found hot, who I desired and how. I believed in my sexual orientation for the first time. I believed in myself as a partner.

 

I felt out a twitter friend in anticipation of him visiting. I tried to do it with the spirit of the blogposts. Communication: up front but not loaded with pressure. Honest and straight-forward. Thankfully, he wasn’t horrified. Things went well. Although the two men in my life haven’t bonded strongly, they get on. It makes me smile when they chat online. Long Distance Twitter Lover now stays with us when he visits and I go away for weekends with him. We felt out what was natural for all three us and have fallen into a rhythm that’s lasted two years and counting.

While I angst-ed over being a cliche, a slutty bisexual who wants to sleep around, it was a huge relief to understand what I found hot, who I desired and how. I believed in my sexual orientation for the first time. I believed in myself as a partner.

I had a few bad experiences elsewhere. I found it incredibly frustrating when people would say one thing and do another, I thought I knew where I stood and then…. People around me were trying to juggle “primary” partners with casual sex, lines shifted, people I’d begun to care about ghosted. The emphasis placed on truth, honesty and communication fell flat for me when that happened. Plus, the agreement I had with my main squeeze meant I wasn’t free to sleep with whoever I wanted to whenever I felt like it. I got a lot of condescending “Oh… that’s… how do you put UP with that? That sounds so restrictive…” comments. I still felt like I didn’t fit in, as though I was doing it wrong. I liked experimenting with kink, but penetration wasn’t something I was fussed about either way, so why did it matter whether I was available to stick bits into? My priority was learning to believe in a relationship, figuring out how to be with partners I didn’t feel compelled to hide stuff from.

 

These days I’m relieved to be doing my own thing without letting any judgments from either side get to me. I’ve watched long term open relationships struggle or break down due to broken trust just the same as my failed monogamous ones. It really doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing, or how. Initially, it jarred when I realised there were still unspoken expectations in a community that advised everyone to find what works for them as individuals. If people are put off because I have boundaries they’re not a fan of, so be it.

 

I’ve rustled up the courage to finally ignore the urge to conform even though it was where I least expected it… and I’m happier for it. Roll on my forties.
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