Exactly two years ago, I broke up with my girlfriend of a year. She was the first woman I dated after coming out as bisexual. The relationship was a rough one, to say the least. Filled with struggles, anxiety and depression. That’s why if you told me that roughly a year after breaking up with her I’d be moving into an apartment with my new boyfriend and his wife, I never would have believed you.
But that’s what happened.
And here’s how it happened, starting with a conversation my then-boyfriend and I had roughly 18 months ago.
“You want me to move in with you and your wife?” I couldn’t help but laugh at his absurd request.
“What’s so funny about this? Why not?” he asked.
“Are you out of your mind? How would this even work?!”
“Never mind, I was just offering.” He looked down and away, visibly hurt by my rejection.
I couldn’t believe my boyfriend had the audacity to ask me to move in with him and his wife after only four short months of dating.
Polyamory was still so new to me. Even now I can’t say I’m polyamorous without laughing or first qualifying, “I know it’s kind of crazy, but…” There’s still a part of me that struggles admitting to others that I’m poly, despite me being openly polyamorous for two years now.
I vividly remember the response I received when I first came out as poly to my mom.
“Honey, if you want to be a slut, just be a slut. Why are you labeling it?” she said. My dad then interjected, “Rose, there will be no slut-shaming in this house!”
Now, my mom is staunchly sex-positive, but her initial perception of polyamory is one I’ve had to address time and time again. People assume polyamory is an excuse to cheat or to sleep with multiple people without commitment. People don’t realize that I (or anyone) could be doing those things without labeling myself as polyamorous. That’s just called being sexually selfish, and polyamory is about so much more than that.
Polyamory, first and foremost, is about throwing away the should and asking yourself the question, “What type of relationship structure works best for me?” If you think the answer to that is being open to having intimate and/or sexual relationships with multiple partners, then you’re polyamorous. The next step is about self-exploration. Trying to figure out what type of relationship configuration works best for you and your partner(s).
One thing I particularly love about polyamory is that you don’t put pressure on one person to satisfy your every need, and various partners can fulfill your diverse needs. The idea that you have one person that can do everything for you adds unnecessary stress onto a relationship. And the vast majority of the time, it simply isn’t true.
With polyamory, you can also explore the grayer relationships between ‘platonic friend’ and ‘romantic partner’ — allowing your relationships to take various forms, organically. What’s more, you can go out without your partner and not feel restricted in how you behave. This is huge for me, as I’m naturally a flirty person. It’s how I communicate with others, but it’s gotten me into trouble previously when dating monogamously. Per the request of my partners, I had to cut it out, which led to me feeling restrained when meeting new people. Because of this, I’ve always struggled making new friends when dating someone monogamously. I’d even go so far as to avoid certain people — people I knew I could develop a crush on if I hung out with them more. It was a shame I had to forgo these relationships, both sexual and platonic, simply because I feared I would accidentally make an intimate connection with someone else.
So why do I get so nervous coming out as polyamorous when I know that being poly is right for me? It’s that I either get judged harshly (like with my mom initially) or people think I’m being foolish.
Often, when I tell people I’m poly, they think there’s no possible way anyone could date multiple people seriously for an extended period of time. In the end, at least one of the relationships (if not all) are doomed to fail in their eyes.
It can feel like they’re holding up a mirror and in its reflection sits me, in a pile of my own tears, picking up my life as my boyfriend moves across the country with his wife.
Of course, I don’t like myself or my relationships being judged by strangers, friends or, frankly, anyone. And what everyone always seem to forget is that I chose, independently, to pursue a polyamorous relationship.
Surprisingly, I stumbled into polyamory — and all it can bring — by complete accident.
Like I briefly mentioned, after a year of dating my girlfriend monogamously, we broke up, and I immediately started on a sexual rampage. I know myself. After a long-term relationship, sleeping with various people can briefly distract me from the pain of heartache. It may not be the healthiest coping mechanism, or a long-term solution, but it works for me.
That’s why I found myself in the arms of many men just days after my ex and I were through. While I made it clear that I wasn’t looking for anything serious — the mere thought of being in another committed relationship tied my stomach into knots — I still found myself with men who wanted to be monogamous. They thought, even though I had made it clear I wasn’t looking for something serious, that they could convince me otherwise. And even though I knew that’s what they were thinking, I still dated them, knowing that no amount of time would ever change my mind.
I was being greedy. After feeling like I gave so much in my last relationship, only to get so little in return, I wanted to take. I wanted the perks of being in a relationship, including wanting my partner to adore me, without giving anything in return. When I finally realized what I was doing, I broke things off with the men I was seeing, bringing one of them to tears. That’s when I decided I better not date. I clearly wasn’t in a place where I could be in an emotionally mature relationship.
But Jason changed all that.
I met him, unexpectedly, at an underground leather bar in Boston. I was dressed in full garb, serving ‘leather daddy realness’: a leather harness, ass-less chaps, collar, bracelets. He was wearing a blue and black singlet, flaunting his perfect bubble butt. The sides of his head were shaved, a faux-mohawk on top, with braids running down the side. His ears were pierced and tattoos covered his back. He looked like a bonafide badass, and immediately I was drawn to him.
We met because a gay friend of mine, who was convinced I was the only bisexual man on the planet, had found another living and breathing bisexual male.
“You must meet him!” My friend exclaimed, overjoyed that the two of us were occupying the same space.
Jason introduced himself with a quiet voice. I could tell he was a little nervous to meet me, which given his look, I wasn’t expecting. But it was endearing. After we both said our names, he asked, “You’re bi? Me too.” Then there was this painfully awkward pause. What was I going to say to him? “Being bisexual can sometimes be a pain in the ass? Am I right or am I right?” It was weird to be introduced to someone simply because we both had the same sexual orientation.
He broke the awkward silence y introducing me to his then-boyfriend. Jason also, without any prompt, told me he had a girlfriend and wife he lives with. My eyes widened. This literally sounded like a pitch for a mediocre sitcom.
I didn’t want to ask the usual barrage of questions I was sure he received. Being bisexual, I’m often prompted with the same questions, and after a while they get annoying: “Do you like guys and girls equally?” “How come I’ve never met another bi guy?” “How do you know you’re bi?”
So instead of asking the usual questions that I assumed he received for being polyamorous — “How does that even work?” “Don’t you get jealous?” — I asked him, “Are you happy?”
He looked at me perplexed. “What?” he asked.
I confirmed my question.
He paused. His tone was deep and his nod was slow. “Yes, I really am,” he said.
“Then do you mind if I interview you?” I knew so little about polyamory, and as someone who writes about relationships — primarily LGBTQ relationships, including my own — I wanted to gain an understanding of how a polyamorous relationship actually manifests itself in real life.
Jason said he would love to be interviewed, and we exchanged numbers. Later that week, he invited me over for “family game night.” I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. I assumed we’d just play board games. But given how we met — at an underground kink bar with a bunch of half-naked dudes — I wasn’t sure if this was also an invitation to some type of orgy. If so, I wanted to be prepared, so I washed out my bum and wore my finest jockstrap under my jeans.
The possibility of an orgy wasn’t the only reason why I accepted the invitation to game night. I also thought meeting his various partners would be great for the profile I was planning. I would be able to see, firsthand, how polyamory actually worked.
When I entered Jason’s place, I was quickly introduced to his wife and girlfriend.
When I awkwardly waved hello to his wife Carolyn, not exactly sure what the introductory protocol was, she quickly asked, “Is it OK if we hug? I’m a hugger.”
“Of course,” I said, and she gave me one of the warmest hugs I’d ever received from someone I had just met. When she let go, I could see she was grinning from ear to ear. She was genuinely ecstatic to meet me. I couldn’t decide if she was like this with everyone or if Jason had said something about me to her. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t complaining. (I learned much later that this is simply who she is: a bubbly, infectiously optimistic and caring person.)
I could feel love bursting in every corner. Everyone hugged. Everyone kissed. Everyone’s hand was on everyone else’s thigh. Honestly, it was overwhelming, and the more I watched everyone engage with each other, the more I thought their affection seemed forced. It seemed like everyone was acting overly demonstrative to avoid issues of jealousy and favoring one partner to another. So if one partner got a kiss, another one would get one shortly after too. It felt like behind all this outward affection they were hiding something. All the work. The jealousy. The tears. The long talks about how to make sure everyone’s needs are getting met.
By the time I left their place, I felt so foolish that I’d thought there was a possibility of an orgy. Also, I didn’t feel polyamory was right for me. Everyone was very sweet, and I would have loved to hang out with them in a group again, but it just seemed so over-the-top. It seemed exhausting to be outwardly affectionate nonstop, and to take into account the various needs of all the people you’re dating.
Nevertheless, I did like Jason. I think I just loved that underneath his badass exterior there seemed to be this shy, caring guy. But I figured there was no future for us. For one thing, I wasn’t trying to date anyone. And he had a wife he’d been married to for eight years. Forget about all the other partners and flings he had, because those come and go. But a wife of eight years? There’s no reason to date a guy with a wife, and they clearly loved each other so much. Eight years of marriage and they were kissing like newlyweds. I didn’t want to have to deal with or compete with her.
But since I did enjoy spending time with them, I always accepted their invitations to hang out. Not once did Jason seem to have any romantic interest in me. He really treated me like a friend. No flirting, no touching, no prolonged eye contact. That’s why I was pretty shocked when he asked me out on an official first date.
His timing was terrible. I was at the party he invited me to, where I knew literally no one except him, his wife and his girlfriend. I beelined to the bar and struck up a conversation with a woman there. Jason came up to me, after an hour of me flirting hard with this woman, to check in and make sure I was having a fun time. I told him I was. That’s when he asked if I wanted to go on a date with him. I said “Yes,” mainly because I was caught off-guard. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. Even though I told myself I didn’t want to date anyone, it wouldn’t be like ‘dating’ with him. There was simply no way he had the time and emotional capacity to date someone else seriously. The man barely had time to breathe, let alone time to date someone new. Since I did want to sleep with him, I thought this was perfect — a casual affair with no strings attached.
But one date led to two, and two to a dozen more. Before I knew it, I was seeing him nearly every day of the week. He was smart, caring, attractive and, most importantly, he laughed at all of my jokes. How could I not like him?
Then, two months into dating, we went on a double date with these ridiculously attractive guys we met out at a bar the weekend prior. After dinner, Jason drove me back to their place for a nightcap — which, in this case, we knew meant sex. In the car, drunk, I looked at Jason. He looked sad, so I asked what’s wrong.
“We don’t have to do this,” I said.
“No, it’s not that. I just get worried that you’ll leave me,” he replied.
While this may seem random, I knew exactly where his fear was coming from. I had been offered a position in Los Angeles as a staff writer for a prestigious website. We were mid-negotiations of payment, and if they paid me what I’d hoped for, I planned to move.
That’s when I looked at him and said, “Don’t worry. We will figure this out. I love you. Of course I do. This relationship hasn’t played its course just yet. Don’t worry about me moving. We’ll figure something out. I’m not ready for this to end.”
Grinning ear to ear, he thanked me and said he loved me too.
“Now you ready to get plowed by two hunks?” I asked.
He laughed and replied, “Let’s do it!”
Those first two months of dating Jason were a whirlwind and filled with challenges, but shockingly not the ones I expected.
The biggest challenge we needed to overcome was time management. I wanted to spend every second of every day with him, but he had a wife, girlfriend and boyfriend, among many other casual partners. He couldn’t forgo every other relationship he was in just to see me all the time.
This is why it’s common to say in the poly world, “Love is infinite, but time is not.” While you have the capacity to love multiple people, you have to decide with whom you’re going to spend your time. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day.
So we took the next step in our relationship: We shared a Google Calendar. That way we could each see one another’s events planned for the week, and we could schedule around them. Having a shared calendar is crucial, because it makes sure you don’t double- or over-book yourself.
At first, it seemed weird knowing exactly where my boyfriend was at all times, and I didn’t like the idea of him knowing where I was, too. It felt … stalker-ish. But I quickly realized that was just part of my fear of commitment. It felt like I was losing some of my independence, but at the end of the day, I had to tell myself it literally didn’t matter where I was, because I was still free to do and see other people.
Bizarrely enough, the challenge I thought would be the most difficult to overcome, jealousy, wasn’t an issue at all.
I knew that if he wanted to see me, it wasn’t because he felt compelled to, or because he had no one else to see. He had plenty of other people he could be getting dinner with: his wife, his girlfriend, his many casual partners, and anyone else in his huge polyamorous group of friends. If he chose to have dinner with me, it would be because he liked me and wanted to spend time with me.
Additionally, if Jason slept with another person, it wasn’t a breach of trust. In a monogamous relationship, if someone sleeps with someone else, they’re breaking their word. Even if they don’t lie about it and tell you the day after that act of infidelity, they still said they wouldn’t do something, then proceeded to do it. This makes me question a person’s integrity. With Jason, though, it was expected he’d date and sleep with others. He was never breaking his word — or my trust — by sleeping with someone else.
It turned out the physical act of having sex with another person wasn’t what stirred my jealous thoughts; it was the fear that my partner would cheat on me, and that I would have to then decide, Can I trust this person again, or should I break up with them? Thus, by being polyamorous and open about our other affairs, my jealousy vanished, as if overnight.
After about three months of dating, I felt like I was getting the whole ‘poly’ thing. I was using the shared Google Calendar to plan our dates and checking it regularly. I became used to all the touching and affection that occurs when multiple partners are in the same room. I realized that it wasn’t forced, like I previously thought. It was real. I think I had been so accustomed to suppressing my emotions and affections in order to avoid being that obnoxious couple who engages in PDA. There’s always that one couple in the friend group who’s holding hands and making out, and I always wanted to murder them. I really didn’t want to be like them. Also, being a queer man, I don’t hold hands with my boyfriend when walking down the street. I don’t kiss my boyfriend on the lips openly wherever I please. I’ve learned to suppress my PDA because I don’t want to get assaulted for being queer. But after finally accepting that it’s OK to like and engage in PDA, I felt liberated.
Still, I was completely floored when Jason asked me to move in with him and his wife.
And in classic Jason fashion, he asked me at an inopportune time, right as he, I and his wife were leaving his place in the morning for work. (He has since learned not to ask me anything prior to two cups of black coffee.)
After laughing in his face and asking, “How would this even work? We’ve only been dating for four months!” he replied, “I mean, you sleep over here all the time.”
“That’s 100% different,” I replied, knowing I was right.
“Never mind. I was just offering,” he said, painfully aware that he was not going to get the answer he’d hoped for.
“We should talk about this later,” Carolyn said. “Now isn’t the time as we’re all heading out.”
I vehemently agreed with Carolyn, wanting to avoid the conversation altogether.
“No, it’s fine,” Jason said. “He doesn’t want to move in. I get it.”
He was clearly upset by how quickly I had dismissed his idea. I didn’t want to make it seem like I wasn’t committed to him. Of course I was. I simply had never lived with a partner, let alone a partner and his wife. The idea sounded completely absurd. I prided myself, despite not being in a typical relationship, of at least being realistic about its challenges. And the idea of moving in with them didn’t seem realistic at all. Besides, I couldn’t see any benefit, just added drama. Why potentially ruin this good thing we had going on?
I finally replied with, “Look, Jason, I’ll consider it. Let’s discuss it later,” but both he and I knew my consideration was a fake condolence.
Much to my surprise, that little inception took, and I couldn’t break the idea of living with him and his wife. I knew it was absolutely absurd. We’d only been dating for four months, and I wasn’t dating (nor sexually intimate) with his wife, just him. Like all the people who had doubted my relationship style, I too couldn’t see an outcome other than someone’s heart breaking.
So after weeks of going back and forth, I decided to ask his wife out on an official date. It was maybe not the best reason to ask her out, but I wanted some one-on-one time with her to discuss some of the reservations about my relationship with him … and, well, with us too.
“It was my idea,” she told me during dinner. “I haven’t seen him this happy in the eight years we’ve been married.”
“I’m moody,” I warned, which I knew didn’t directly respond to what she’d said, but it was on my mind. “I need my own space. I need time to be alone, watch TV and get a good night of sleep.”
“So you’re a human being,” Carolyn said. “Good, good, so are we.”
“I also can’t forgive,” I continued. “No three-strike rule. You cross the threshold once, and I’m done with you for good.”
“Then we’ll have to discuss what your thresholds are, so we never get to a place where we accidentally cross them,” she said.
I hated the way she responded to my every concern perfectly. Like a true adult.
I finally told them I wanted the three of us to have a long sit-down to discuss what my needs were, what I expected, and what I could offer on the slight chance I did agree to live with them.
“How does it work if you want to have sex with your date?” I asked.
“Since we share our calendar, you’ll know I’m having a date, so often you’ll leave the house during that time,” Jason replied.
Really? I remember thinking to myself. This is seriously how we’re going to handle that problem?
“So the impetus is then on me to not be in the house?” I asked.
“No, I mean, usually I’d take the date back to his place,” Jason replied.
“So do we just avoid being in the house when the other person is having sex?” I continued.
“No, I mean, you can if you want to. I won’t. I don’t care,” he said. “The first few times you hear it, it’s really weird, but after that, you get used to it.”
“Hmm…” I said, not at all sold on this arrangement. “This doesn’t sound like an ideal situation.”
“Honestly, I know it seems like the biggest deal. It’s not. You either care, so you leave, or you don’t really care, or you tell me if it’s a problem,” Jason said. “Be vocal.”
“FYI, if this doesn’t work out, I’m just leaving. You’ll find someone to sublet, OK?” I said, clearly on the cusp of a panic episode.
Jason laughed, “Zach, don’t freak out. We’d never force you to live here if you didn’t want to.”
Even though our talk started off shaky, by the end I felt comforted at the idea of moving in with them. If there’s a problem, be vocal. If my needs aren’t getting met, be vocal. If I’m not happy, be vocal. Always be vocal. Communication is key.
So I officially agreed. I’d move in with my boyfriend and his wife. We’d each have our own room. We’d all share a calendar. I’ll love him. She’ll love him. He’ll love both of us. And all three of us will love others.
For eight months we lived together.
I loved living with both of them. Yes, there were challenges (which I’ll be sure to discuss in another piece), but there are challenges living with anyone. And the benefits — the joy I received from living with both of them — far outweighed the challenges we faced.
After eight months, Jason and I broke up. We realized that I viewed him more as a best friend than as a romantic partner. While there’s undoubtedly overlap, there is still a distinct difference — one I didn’t initially realize, but he did. We decided it would be better for us to be friends, especially since I had planned on moving to NYC in a few months.
Nearly half a year after breaking up, Jason and I remain close friends. We text. He visits me in New York. We go out together, each picking up different boys and bringing them back to my place. We’re real, genuine friends. He’s the only person I’ve dated seriously (and loved) who I’ve been able to remain close friends with. I can always stay friends with guys I’ve casually dated, but before Jason, I had never been able to stay friends with someone I shared such an intense connection with.
I look back on the time I spent living with Jason and Carolyn with nothing but fondness. I don’t have a single regret. Yes, it’s a shame things didn’t work out … or maybe it’s not. I now have a close friend for life. Someone who understands me, how I date, how I love, as well as my strengths and all too many flaws.
Perhaps I’m lucky to have spent the time I did living with him, and even luckier to spend the rest of my life having a close friend who understands me.