Under two months ago, it was just a word. Now it’s the word. If you open my phone’s browser (and go to private mode), you’re accosted with it. If you were to take a trip inside my head, it comes up daily — more than daily, hourly — and is scrutinized minutely. It’s taken over so completely that I wanted to use it recently to introduce myself in a lab meeting to an interloping doctor. “Oh, you wanted to know about my project? Nope. But my boyfriend has another girlfriend. What’s up?”
Previously, I’d considered it in an offhand manner, as far as agreeing with it in theory. Left to my own devices, I probably would never have had the impetus to begin — but then I went on a Bumble date. To an Orange Julius. In Surrey.
Life comes at you fast.
He was two months out of a five-year heterosexual relationship, with the last year and a half of it conducted in a less-than-conventional manner: he and his partner dated other women together. So there, in the food court of the Surrey Central Mall, on date one, we got right into it. My own dating experience is run-of-the-mill. Three serious boyfriends, a number of flings, and a sprinkle of people whose names I never quite got round to asking about for the Google Doc I keep of everyone I’ve ever kissed (genuine extracts: “oh god awful North Carolinan who sucked at democracy,” “excessively tall man,” “goatee-sporting member of the Pit clientele,” and personal highlight “a trip to Scandinavia is never complete without banging a hot half-Iranian dude, having a dead phone and becoming stranded in northern Denmark”) – but I digress.
Despite having been cheated on and at one point suffering though a long-distance relationship, I’ve never been a jealous person, so I thought I’d find it all fairly easy. Not so. Turns out there’s a difference between being jealous because you suspect something’s going on, and being jealous because you know your partner has other partners. I’ve found I am susceptible to the latter.
As well as being unconventional, our relationship began with intensity. We discussed moving in together on date five; by date six we were in love, and said so. The trepidation I felt about embarking into polyamory was tempered by my disbelief over whether it was actually going to materialise: before I went back to England for Christmas, he stayed at mine almost every night for a week; he’d drop me off at work, go write angsty poetry in a cafe, and pick me up at 5 p.m. He went for one or two other dates, but we joked that I was “top girlfriend,” so when I introduced my situation to friends and family, it was with a flippant “I’ve got a boyfriend, and he’s got three other girlfriends, but I’m top girlfriend.” This made it more palatable, as much for me and my pride as for anyone else. I think I subconsciously believed that when I came back after New Years, we’d transition to monogamy.
I liked the edginess of the label of polyamory, but I was having trouble grappling with a few ideas, not least that central tenet of monogamous society stating that if your partner has other partners, it must be a shortcoming on your behalf that’s making you “not enough” for them.
My main ways to get around any discomfort were cold, hard logic coupled with honest and frank communication. I reasoned that I wanted him to be happy, and if seeing other people while I was away made him happy, why should I have a problem with that? I reasoned that if a friend said to me one day that they didn’t need any other friends anymore, they wanted to be friends with me exclusively, and they expected me to stop seeing all my other friends, I’d probably briefly choke on my own spit. I reasoned that when my parents mentioned they’d spoken to my brother or my sister on the phone on a day where they hadn’t called me, I didn’t worry that they were considering that maybe they only ever needed two children, and were phasing me out. I reached for this logic when I was having insecure thoughts about him and his feelings towards me and found them largely successful.
Over time, the other people he was seeing fell away, except for one; and on New Year’s Day, lying alone on an airbed in Calgary with a brutal hangover, I found out that he and she were in love, too. Ruminating on this led me to stalk her Facebook (obviously), and in true Vancouver style, it turned out we had a close mutual friend.
In polyamory land, your partner’s other partner is known as your “metamour.” My new metamour was more jealous than I was, and her attempt to restrain her jealousy was an at-times terrifyingly forceful campaign to become friends. The connection that we already had through him meant we knew personal things about each other from the outset; my instinct was not to directly address this, but she took a less nuanced, no-bullshit approach.
Once or twice she overstepped boundaries that I hadn’t known I had, but being honest while acknowledging how weird the situation was for both of us ended up working well. A particularly memorable exchange was in reference to the fact that he and I had joked about making a personalized dildo, which involves taking an impression of a penis in clay and sending it off to some shady back-room office in the dodgy end of Gastown to forge it in sparks and silicone. He had told her about this, and I found her keen interest in the matter to be something I couldn’t really handle. My relationship with her was still in its infancy, so I had to be careful to intimate that while most things were still kosher, this specific area was something I officially was Not Down With. So I sent a text I never thought I would: “Boyfriend’s other girlfriend, cool. Being friends with the other girlfriend, cool. Girlfriend being involved with a personalized dick mould is I guess where I’m drawing the line.”
It was a weird dance: trying to express what I wanted while being respectful of the potentially competing desires of someone I’d never met, with my lizard brain screaming “GET AWAY FROM MY BOYFRIEND, YOU HARPY!” and my human brain going “Jesus Christ, what is wrong with me? Am I truly so selfish as to be incapable of feeling compersion?” Ah, compersion. Romantically, that most elusive of emotions: “the feeling of joy one has experiencing another’s joy.”
If I even had a neural compersion centre before all this, it was definitely smaller than my ego centre.
My friends have all been incredibly supporting and readily giving of advice. My only small issue has been the fact that it’s all come through a monogamous lens — hearing things like “I couldn’t do that,” “that sounds so weird,” and “I think I’m just too jealous” on a regular basis solidifies those as the norm and seems to carve into stone how bizarre and divergent I am being. Listening to polyamory podcasts and talking to my metamour as we’ve grown closer has helped a lot to normalize this, and we’re at the stage now where we can hang out as a trio as long as he’s not too affectionate with either of us.
I like to think that if nothing else, it’s definitely been a wild ride for me (and for all of my group chats). With mishaps ranging from flat tires (with the accompanying creation of a podcast that would be most accurately categorized in the incredibly niche genre of “polyamory and roadside assistance”), to crying at my desk at work, to discussing the three of us moving in together, there’s never a dull moment. I remain unsure whether that’s inherent to polyamory, or some factor of the three of us, or it’s just because it’s new and we’re all making it up as we go along — but the more comfortable we become together, the more we are able to enjoy ourselves.
And I don’t mean that in a group sex capacity. If I had a dollar for every person who asked if we were having threesomes, I’d be some way towards a deposit on a lovely three-bedroom house in Kits for us.
Polyamory isn’t without its pitfalls, but I’ve learnt a lot about myself, and my personal goals are to become a more open, compassionate person and a more effective communicator. My ultimate advice, however, would be this: if you’ve stayed over at one girlfriend’s house, maybe got a bit frisky in the morning, and gone from there to lunch with another girlfriend, and you think you’ve washed your beard enough, maybe give it another quick scrub before you leave the house. Just to be safe.
Annie is a second-year bioinformatics master's student who aggressively pokes a keyboard all day and can do the cup routine from Pitch Perfect. She is a compulsive list-maker and has spent years cultivating her handwriting to the point where all her love letters are almost indecipherable, even to her.