Writer: Ella Salome
Emotional intensity and deep introspection are two qualities which seem to be inherently part of me. I thrive on relationships of all different kinds, I take energy from the people around me, and I like to connect with people on a level which perhaps doesn’t usually manifest itself so easily to others. I’m not saying this is unique to me, or that I’m somehow special or better. But I believe that in certain contexts, I might be considered ‘other’. This is one of the reasons which I practice ethical non-monogamy, or polyamory, as I often call it.
Now, before I move on to the more in depth exploration of this topic, I really want to make something clear: the polyamorous community is a wide and diverse group of people, and there’s no way any one voice could represent it. I am not an expert, and I haven’t made any concerted or objective effort to research this topic beyond the point where it has been personally helpful or interesting to me and those around me. I am writing from my own experience, which I am able to do more clearly due to wide reading and thought on the topic. That said, my experience has certainly shared similarities with many others.
I have always found within myself the capacity, and in fact desire, to have multiple simultaneous romantic interests. Although it has been a carefully reasoned and well considered decision to inhabit this relationship philosophy, it is also something I consider to be a very natural choice for me. I am blessed to have a partner who understands this about me, and who accepts it with a grace and encouragement I didn’t think possible earlier in life. That said, I don’t think it’s a coincidence either. I can’t imagine I would have stuck around for too long with someone who didn’t understand and love an integral part of me.
Love positivity, sex positivity, queer acceptance, openness and connectedness: these are the themes often addressed in articles and stories about polyamory. Which makes sense, because these values do seem to go hand in hand with the territory. But it is also due to a deep instinct to present an aggressively positive view of a lifestyle which is so often criticised. Despite my earlier disclaimer, the act of writing this article does mean that I am to some degree representative of my community. I feel the pressure. But love, and life, is complicated. Open relationships aren’t as inherently messy as people seem to think they are; but any relationship can get difficult during a time of great change. Although I want to write about the beautiful, enriching and precious moments I have experienced during my journey into non-monogamy, I also want to talk about the hard stuff, the confusion and the crushing vulnerability.
So much of my education around love, and sex, has involved hammering into me that true love means finding your one and only. I thought that having an active love life meant going through the process of locking someone down, and then escalating the relationship exponentially until you either broke it or traded up for someone better. So when I found love one month shy of my twentieth birthday with a man named Jordon, it was very hard for me to be satisfied with it. I was so worried I’d spend my ‘true love’ token on the wrong person. Although Jordon made me very happy, I couldn’t seem to be comfortable with the idea of settling down forever into monogamy. This almost caused me to lose him, twice. I felt broken and toxic, and I was afraid to let Jordon help with the process of healing me if I was unable to commit to him. I slut shamed myself constantly, and I kept my desire for others to myself. He loved me so well, and so completely, I thought I owed him fidelity. I thought love meant he got to own me, and when I found that I wasn’t comfortable with that, I would decide to leave him. I broke both of our hearts twice, determined to tear myself away from him before it was too late. After our second breakup didn’t stick, we started to talk about other possibilities. The problem was not that we weren’t ‘in-love’, the problem was that love didn’t mean what we’d been told it meant.
Each monogamous structure Jordon and I peeled away from our relationship had to be replaced with something new. With each new frontier, be it a first date, a sneaky dancefloor kiss or a sleepover, came a set of issues to be talked about, categorised and addressed by the relevant parties. Bearing in mind that Jordon and I both deal with high levels of crippling social anxiety, you might understand why this process has been extremely in-depth and prolonged — but also pretty enjoyable, to be honest. We both enjoy turning over social norms, talking about new and better ways for us to be together and apart, as our authentic selves. Still, intensive theoretical discussions take time and energy, and it has occasionally been hard to maintain this level of communication. We had a lot of untangling to do; we had to realise that although we were in love, we weren’t a package deal. We had to work out what was shared, and what was simply mine, or simply his. Nothing in our relationship was left on the automatic settings; everything had to be deliberately calibrated to suit our needs. Mostly it was a process of self-acceptance, and reassurance. That the parts of me which I’d actively silenced and minimised might be coaxed back out — my queerness, my outgoing nature. I also discovered a depth of love, affection and social energy within myself which, when poured out, would cause any one vessel to overflow and perhaps even capsize.
Once we’d finished renovating our relationship, I found myself back on a dating scene I’d never really understood in the first place. I struggled to get back into the dating game after so long in the secure embrace of a steady relationship. It was a minefield of definitions, boundaries, disclosure choices and self-discovery. It has since occurred to me that trying to fit myself into a dating culture I don’t enjoy is a ridiculous way to look for love, which was, ultimately what I was looking for. Although I originally approached the opening of our relationship with the idea of simply looking for something physical, it became pretty speedily apparent to both Jordon and I that I couldn’t really regulate my feelings that way. If I was going to date, we had to accept that falling in love was as much a possibility as a one night stand. And to be clear, there was also the possibility of me forming a band, or finding someone to go to art exhibitions with, or exploring a warehouse in the middle of the night with a new buddy. Mostly I just wanted to meet people, and do interesting things with them.
So that’s where I am now in my journey. I have found that examining my romantic habits has caused me to look at all my relationships with deliberate scrutiny. So many common ideas about love involve putting a partner before all others. Letting go of that fallacy gave me permission to put new energy into my close friends, new friends, relationships with colleagues and my family. I re-learned how to make friends, and approach people with fewer expectations of what they could give me, and more to offer in return.
I wanted to write about vulnerability because I believe it’s important. And I have purposefully made myself vulnerable during this process. Although I have been vulnerable in an open, emotional way, I am also making myself vulnerable to discrimination and prejudice. Although I have done a very careful job of minimising this risk as best I can, and have enjoyed a pretty easy ride so far by not coming out publicly. I have picked and chosen who I tell, with less and less nervousness as I gain momentum. I got to practise the explanations and arguments on the people who love me already, before I had to face those who don’t. I am terrified to present this side of myself to the world. But I’m also too proud of myself not to. I have struggled and worked and beaten back my demons in order to get here. A few months ago I celebrated my five year anniversary with Jordon, and our relationship remains healthy and joyous. I date, and meet amazing people, and connect with them in whichever way comes naturally to me — sometimes romantic, sometimes not. Most importantly, I have learned to be deeply, painfully, gloriously vulnerable.
Ella Salome is a writer, editor and musician who has just completed her Bachelor of Communications: Professional Writing at VU.