“It is,” I respond. “But not in the ways you’d expect.”
The most common objection my friends have against non-monogamy is that they fear they’d get way too jealous. In my experience, however, jealousy is often a useful sign post, pointing me towards what needs loving care within myself. It pops up, often, but one learns how to deal with it through a mixture of self-care and tolerance for discomfort.
What is hard about non-monogamy, however, and what I did not expect to find so searingly painful so much of the time, is the loneliness.
Looking back, I should probably have known it would be an often isolated journey – when I left behind my religion, I experienced much the same thing, living as I did in a very Christian society. I spent agonising nights alone, soul-searching, wishing I could compare notes and experiences with others who were coming to doubt their faith as well. It is so strange to feel compelled to question the very fabric of your existence; and having to do it alone is hard.
But I found new friends over time, friends who were questioning their faith too. I built myself an entire community of open-minded friends. With non-monogamy, however…
I live in South Africa, where of course there are some other polyamorous people, but most of them I know only on Facebook. I’ve met only a handful of non-monogamous people in real life, and those experiences haven’t always been positive. But what is harder than those few encounters with chancers has been the sheer lack of community. As it turns out, having to explain yourself to your baffled friends over and over again leaves the soul weary.
Not that my friends are judgmental. Most of them are beautifully tolerant and even curious; but they tend to view me as the weird friend in the group who tries new things a lot and will probably settle down as she gets older.
And sometimes I wonder if they’re right. Being polyamorous doesn’t feel like an integral part of my identity to me, like being a woman or being queer does. It feels like a choice, informed by my previous monogamous experiences, by my personality, and by relationship anarchy, which resonates very deeply for me. I want to live a life guided by kindness and openness, wherein each relationship is a thing entirely of itself, where each person has full sovereignty, and where inherited ideas of what relationships should look like do not call the shots. So far, for me, that has not been compatible with monogamy. The thought of having only one partner and neither of us being “allowed” to follow other connections wherever they may lead feels stifling to me.
But the reality, at least where I live, is that polyamory is a strange concept to almost everybody I meet. Over the past three years, I dated a person who thought “non-monogamous” simply meant I was a really cool chick who’d be up for threesomes, and I had another relationship with someone who had never heard of polyamory but was willing to try it until he realised six months in that it wasn’t for him. The kicker, though, was a third relationship, with someone who appeared to be on the same path as myself, with whom I threw myself into my most vulnerable attempt yet at a fully polyamorous relationship. When we parted romantic ways, he entered into a monogamous relationship, triggering my most hidden fear: that he had always wanted monogamy, simply experimenting with me in the meantime until the right one came along. Few of his friends had known of me. His parents had never met me. My role in his life was kept mostly hidden. I thought he didn’t want definitions (nor did I), but now he’s doing family Christmases with his new girlfriend, appearing on her social media, publicly committed.
That really scares me, you know? The thought that someone who wants to relate the way I want to as well could suddenly turn around and choose something entirely different. That what is for me a heartfelt and deeply intentional lifestyle might be an experiment for someone else. That people might assume that my relationship style makes me a convenient stopgap. Or even, quite simply, that someone might really try polyamory, that we might invest time and love into our relationship, only for them to realise later on that it isn’t for them.
“Polyamory” means many loves, and I have many loves in my life: cherished family members, cherished friends, vulnerable and joyful connections of all kinds. Oftentimes I look at my life and think, “this is exactly what I want”. But other times I find myself longing for a community where my choices aren’t as unusual. Where I do not have to educate a potential romantic partner, knowing very well that they might choose something else entirely. I wonder sometimes: if I meet someone and fall head over heels in love with them, and they want to be monogamous – would I do it? Should I try that again? Is non-monogamy really the hill I want to die on?
And so, I have been questioning my path. I don’t have any answers yet, except the deep knowledge that I must do what resonates for me. I do not want fear calling the shots. I want to forge an authentic path for myself. I want to love hard. I want to live truthfully.
And I also want to be known, and understood. I’d like to be able to relax into my relationships, doing the work and showing up from a place of confidence. This is something I don’t have yet – I’m not fully confident in my choices. Writing this, though, I realise that I have something else, something which is equally precious: I have clarity of intention. Whatever my relationships might look like in the future, I know that I will always bring my entire heart, my questioning heart, my brave heart. I will allow it to lead me, however lonely the path might seem, because I know from experience that following my heart leads me to the fullest growth and fulfillment.
About the author: Sage lives on a farm in the Western Cape, South Africa, with her dog, Waldo. She identifies as a relationship anarchist and currently practices solo polyamory; she writes about this and other experiences on her blog, www.sagefreda.com. She also hopes to start collaborating on telling other people’s stories soon, creating a storytelling community where everyone’s voices and experiences are welcomed. You can find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sagefreda89 and on Instagram as @Sagefreda89.