I get emails that haunt me. They read: “I feel so alone” and “I need a poly sister because I am in full meltdown here.” It hurts to hear cries for help, from virtual strangers. I know what it feels like to be misunderstood. To not be able to talk about your relationship angst to your parents, co-workers, and neighbors. Hell, even your local bartender says, “What do you expect when you play with fire?!” The whole world seems to blame polyamory for all of our woes. Nobody gets it.
So we struggle alone. We minimize our troubles, and we keep making the same damn mistakes that could have been avoided if we had better support. Good advice is hard to come by. Good polyamorous advice is exponentially hard to find. Not only is polyamory a burgeoning new orientation, but every polyamorous relationship is different; and no single pearl of wisdom is going to apply to all the quirky and complex personalities involved.
Until last month, I didn’t know what to do with all these emails. I couldn’t possibly respond to everyone. I was on personal retreat, busy working with a deadline for my next book. But then, out of the blue, a dear friend and polyamorous mentor died. Deborah Taj Anapol was a rare human with a gift for giving advice. She was one of the few people I could count on for honest insights about the deep matters of the heart. She wasn’t afraid to confront people if she believed it would help them. Her passing put me into a life review. I realize that in the end, we only live on through those whose hearts we touch.
Even though her dying represents an unexpected end of one chapter in polyamory history, it’s not the end of the book. Since she was one of the original founders of the magazine Loving More and she was an avid blogger at “Love Without Limits, Reports from the Relationship Frontier,” In her honor, am feeling inspired to start a new monthly column which I’m submitting to be published in an alternantive magazine. How do you like the name: Poly Pillow Talk?
According to Wikipedia, “Pillow talk is the relaxed, intimate conversation that often occurs between two sexual partners after the act of coitus, usually accompanied by cuddling, caresses, and other physical intimacy. It is associated with honesty, sexual afterglow, and bonding, and is distinguished from dirty talk which usually forms part of foreplay.” I’m calling this column “Poly Pillow Talk” because I intend to be intimate, candid and honest, yet OPEN to everyone who reads it. I want you to feel like a lover. So, I figure I’ll start off by answering some typical questions I get from my fans, and eventually I’ll seduce you to send me fresh and challenging questions each month.
In sifting through my neglected files of fan mail, I noticed several common themes emerge, some of which had nothing to do with this advice column, such as: Can we exchange nude pictures? Is your show going to have a season 3? When are you coming to India to teach polyamory? Will you endorse my product? How do I become your disciple, lover, slave, bitch…etc? I don’t plan to dignify irrelevant questions with a response in this column; I just thought, like me, you’d find them intriguing. So, here are the two questions I selected for todays Pillow Talk: 1) Handling Heartbreak and 2) Caught Cheating.
Q:1 HANDLING HEARTBREAK.
“Hello! Me and my fiancé loved learning about you and your family by watching Polyamory: Married & Dating. A few years later, we decided to become polyamorous as well. I’ve had a few flings. He hasn’t found a woman who would begin to consider going down our crazy path. Anyway, that’s a little background info. I am messaging you to tell you how calm, encouraging, and loving you always seem. Secondly, I didn’t see any heartbreak on the show. Do you ever experience heartbreak? As in, you start a relationship with a man and he leaves because poly is too much for him? This has happened to me twice since April. I am starting to think dating is not even worth it. I don’t wanna be getting my heart broken every time I turn around. And lastly are you still with Jennifer and Tahl? Thanks for reading. (Smily emoticon) You’re a great role model, and I reference you often.”
Whether you’re poly, single or married, breaking up is a bitch. I may not have shown it on TV, but I’m no stranger to the devastating pain of loss that comes with losing a lover. How do I handle it? I cry. A lot. Some might think that having multiple partners means that you have a sort of built-in system for rebound. Perhaps if someone doesn’t want to face their loss they could find comfort in taking another lover. But every love is unique, and simply cannot be replaced. Additionally, when we allow ourselves to love more than one, we put ourselves at risk for the absolute most unbearable experience: multiple simultaneous breakups.
Shortly after the season finale, due to circumstances unrelated to the show, I separated with Jason, Jennifer and Tahl. Jason moved out of the country and Jennifer and Tahl moved out separately. I can’t describe the searing hurt I suffered. Thank God I had multiple shoulders to cry on. It’s important to note that my loss had a rippling impact on my husband and my girlfriend, Roxanne. Just because my heart had broken into pieces, I learned, didn’t make it acceptable to lash out or snap at my current relationships. I never again want to take my beloveds for granted. So in the several breakups that I’ve had since, I try to mourn gently, taking myself on walks, watching sunsets, binging on healthy stuff, and talking about it little by little, until day by day I find myself on the other side.
Fortunately the predominant value in the polyamorous community is to maintain friendships and sometimes even sensuality when a relationship transitions. Everyone involved in my string of breakups has made a valiant effort to stay in touch and find “right relation.” After taking a few months of “intentional space,” Jennifer and Tahl are again among my best friends who I see frequently, while Jason and I enjoy the occasional warm melting hug when we run into each other at events. But most breakups are not nearly that easy.
Unfortunately, when someone decides polyamory is not for them, they likely won’t share the same value for ongoing connection. The monogamous paradigm typically involves a clean break and severing all ties from old sweethearts. In these cases, I have been known to journal many letters, poems and/or songs that never get sung.
Q:2 CAUGHT CHEATING.
“I had a problem with my girlfriend. I need your advice how to face the mental turmoil I have undergone every day since I found out she had physical relationship with another man. I caught them red-handed naked in the bedroom. She is still with me, I still care for her, but she wants different sex experiences with a young man.”
Ouch. Talk about heartbreaks. I get so many stories about couples who betray each other. What astounds me is why so many people seem to think this is a poly question. In this case (as with many others), when I inquired further, this man and his girlfriend didn’t actually have any agreements. They were operating within the standard assumptions of a monogamous paradigm until she cheated on him. When he saw the show he automatically jumped to the conclusion that polyamory could solve their problems. People often hear that polyamory is about multiple partners but somehow forget that it involves the informed consent of everyone involved. I hate to break it to you (and the rest of the world) but someone has to say it: Cheating does NOT make you or your girlfriend a good candidate for polyamory. However, if she were compulsive about telling the truth, your case would not be so hopeless.
Successful polyamory is built on a foundation of trust and communication. If you think that your partner’s betrayal and deception is a good reason to open the relationship, you are going to be sadly disappointed. Restoring the trust after one partner has been caught cheating is not impossible. (It takes a tremendous amount of reassurance, compassion and loyalty, but it can be done.) And yet, opening a monogamous relationship into polyamory takes all that plus more. It takes both partners being onboard, a commitment to total honesty, a willingness to work through jealousy, a high degree of emotional maturity, and fierce dedication to communicate before and after each new connection. In my world view, the best premise on which to open a relationship is not only when you are secure within yourself but also when you are secure within your relationship. When people try to bypass one or the other, they end up in a pattern of recurring pain.
So, I suggest you do some soul-searching. What is the shape of your heart? Do you want to be in a devoted relationship with one person, or do you want to learn to share your love with multiple people? Do not ask yourself, “What is the relationship structure that will help me keep my partner?” but ask, “What will help me express the fullness of who I am?” And then you have to be willing to go for your deepest truth, even if it means letting go of your current relationship.
So now, to close our first “Polyamory Pillow Talk” I want to gently stroke your hair and tell you that you deserve the love life of your dreams. You’re going to go through moments where you might feel totally alone. We all do. There are millions of us out there going through something similar. I hope you open up and share the details of your process with us. I may not have all the answers, and you may not even like what I have to say; but just by writing it out, you might gain clarity. And I hope my advice will help somebody, or it might further the conversation. So let’s keep talking about it. After all, withholding your perspective just perpetuates the illusion of separation.
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