There’s a line from Her that has stuck with me over the years.
“The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love.”
I don’t know if Spike Jonze intended this as a reflection on polyamory, but that’s how I’ve come to interpret it.
I used to dismiss the idea that it was feasible to love more than one person at a time, that people were just fooling themselves, settling for less, diluting their experience of any single connection. That may actually be true for some people; I’ve come to recognize that there are a lot of people being poly for the wrong reasons. Talking about polyamory can be difficult because of this – everyone comes into the conversation with their own associations and preconceptions. Most of us have witnessed (or at least heard recounted through the gossip chain) some ill-conceived attempt at being poly where every party ended up hurt and miserable. Further complicating things is the fact that there are vastly different ways to be polyamorous.
My interest in this started with one realization: I’ve never really fallen out of love. I’ve had a lot of amazing relationships full of beautiful moments and memories. I learned so much and grew immensely as a person with each person I was with. I spent so much time with them. As I entered new relationships, I found myself wrestling with these feelings. I felt like I ought to let go of these memories, bury them deep and hope they wouldn’t resurface again. Am I really supposed to just dump those connections and feelings into the abyss and start over again?
That felt so incongruent, yet ironically I found myself stupidly jealous of people in someone else’s past. I wanted to feel special, like I was the only person they had ever dated, and this becomes wildly unrealistic as I approach the age of 30. Some of us have been around the block…a couple times. Part of my interest in this has been out of frustration with my own hypocrisy.
For me, this starts with being honest – with myself and with others – about what I’m actually feeling, rather than endlessly trying to tamp down thoughts that I’m afraid for someone else to hear. I don’t have to pretend that I’m not attracted to other people, or that I don’t have feelings squirreled away somewhere for someone besides the person right in front of me.
I once thought I couldn’t be poly because I never had interest in hookups or one-night stands. My heart just doesn’t work that way; I get attached, and I like getting attached. There’s so much joy in getting to know someone. My first night with someone has never been anywhere near as good as the tenth, and it (generally) only gets better from there. Intimacy fucking rules.
Yet I also don’t have the capacity or energy to maintain multiple relationships simultaneously. I can’t divide my attention or affection in that way. When I’m with someone, they have my undivided attention and energy. That’s how I want it to be. So where I’ve landed is probably better described as non-monogamy.
There are still rules. Being poly doesn’t mean you can do what you want – which is definitely a perception I’ve seen. Jealousy doesn’t cease to be a problem. But as someone who self-describes as being fairly jealous – I’ve found it a lot easier to manage these feelings than I expected because of how much more open and honest the communication becomes. Since there’s no need to pretend or pressure to uphold a fiction of permanent cognitive monogamy, trust can flow effortlessly.
It means there is flexibility and understanding. It’s okay for someone to feel attraction or love for another person besides me, that this doesn’t mean I am devalued as a partner or as a human. Because people are different. We each offer unique perspectives and attitudes, our own sets of experiences and expertise.
Increasingly I find it hard to imagine how one person could fulfill everything I might hope for in a partner. I have so many goddamn interests and passions. That’s so much pressure to place on someone, to hope that they would share in all the things I hope to enjoy with a partner. Conversely, I will probably never be the guy that knows anything about cool cocktail lounges or fancy restaurants to go to. I’m gonna have a hard time getting into sports and I probably won’t be an enriching conversation partner on the topic of gardening. There are other people out there that can provide that way better than I can. I feel no desire to compete.
One final thought: another trend I’ve noticed in conversations about this is that people often seem to interpret this as prescriptive, that because I’m doing this and talking about it, that I think it’s a better way of doing things for everybody. It’s CLEARLY not. It might not even be the right choice for me long-term, I genuinely don’t know. I have little experience here; I’ve just been thinking about it a lot this last year or two, trying out some of the concepts.