When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.
– Dean Jackson
This morning, I read the above quote and it resonated with me. That’s a pretty good indication that it should inform my writing today.
For most of my adult life, the symbolism of winged creatures — specifically birds — has colored my writing and my thoughts. I am the woman who falls in love easily, finding the good, the attractive, and the valuable in people who are willing to open themselves and be intimately known by me. Socially accepted norms for relationships frustrate me with their narrow scope and strict limits. An untamed spirit, I am frustrated by the idea of having my wings clipped.
It was a long, confusing road to adulthood, and not until my late thirties, did I find myself coming into my own understanding of the possibility of ethical non-monogamy. When I first felt the pull to honor the way my heart is wired, I was a caged bird. I loved my husband. (I still do.) The transition from a monogamous marriage to the freedom to love him and others equally, with integrity and passion, was a trial by fire that nearly ended our relationship. We have learned what doesn’t destroy you can definitely make you stronger.
(I might just be a monogamy-to-non-monogamy-phoenix.)
It is hard work, but very rewarding to seek out, foster and nurture romantic relationships with others. I’m learning from my own experience (and to some degree, the experience that successful, long-term-poly people have shared) the healthiest of these are built on trust, and equality. Relationships with ownership rules, or “primary”, “secondary”, and “tertiary” designations can end in heartbreak and frustration. I believe strongly that relationships are unique, and difficult to define, and one is not more valuable or more deserving of commitment, or protection.
I believe a mutual dedication to trust and respect will offset the “need” to designate the primary relationship, or to set rules meant to protect or rank one over all others. I do not treat my loves as second-class citizens of my world, whether we live in the same home, share a bank account, parent children together, or schedule our weekend visits around google calendars, family holidays and other lovers. My partnerships are unique; they are not ranked.
There are others in my world for whom the ranking and hierarchical approach to polyamory is so vital, that they refuse to have relationships without the safety net this approach provides. They do not always like the way I assert my freedoms, or the way I fly. They are uncomfortable with my views or the stand I take on how to structure healthy, ethically non-monogamous relationships. I have been in this sort of power struggle and had it end horribly. The truth is, that my heart is not at peace with the kind of polyamory which sets the priority for the health or value of one relationship over another.
Instead, I desire that we all — my loves, my husband’s loves, and those our loves also love — foster trust and respect, instead of rules and entitlement. My lovers, and their relationships with others are incredibly important to me. I do not make demands that my commitment to any of them be declared first, or best. I do not hold veto power. I invest a great deal of energy and time into communicating and building trust, so that all involved feel safe and highly valued. I also try to choose partners who are healthy enough to also choose healthy partners, who can be trusted, and learn to trust me, and us, to respect and nurture their relationships, as well.
Finally, my unique relationships mean that my commitments are customized. No two relationships can look the same, or meet the same needs, for those involved. In my case, I only share the joys of parenthood, joint-checking, and same-home living with my husband. We are married, and have been for two decades. We are not, however, tied to each other in a way that restricts our freedom to love others, or to build deep, lasting connections with them as well. I do not require my husband, to declare me as “primary”, nor does he expect me to rank our relationship as first among others.
I have a very differently unique, lifetime commitment to my other “mate”. We would marry if it were legal to do so. We are friends, lovers, partners, and he is the man with whom I share a power exchange dynamic. I’ve chosen to surrender certain freedoms and rights to him, because the energy we exchange in that dynamic feeds us both in an unparalleled way. You might think this sort of dynamic impossible within such an egalitarian framework. However, with a great deal of communication, negotiation, and patience, we are learning to make it work. My surrender of some freedoms within that power exchange is respectful of and honoring to our other relationships, and my partner in this dynamic is committed to enriching the others, not disrupting them in the way we conduct our lives with each other.
The third unique relationship I’m just beginning to explore, does not yet have a set of custom commitments, but it will. We are discussing them as things progress, and he is a man who, like me, is resolute about trust and freedom, without hierarchy or rating systems. My commitment to each of these lovers is to be careful to choose partners who are a good fit, and to not introduce and nurture connections that will threaten the whole.
I am determined, on this journey as a woman, to become my true self. There are, and always will be, those who do not agree with my views on this very complex relationship style. I do not judge or condemn others for crafting their monogamous or ethically non-monogamous relationships differently. There was a time when my relationships did not look the way they do now. I accept that many will not like me because of my approach. I can only follow the road before me. I cannot force myself to follow a path that isn’t true to my heart any more than I can insist that they agree with me and take the same road.
I do know that as a free and untamed spirit, I willingly choose the bird-cage of multiple, committed relationships. I am happy to build a framework for our lives, and to live within that “open-door” cage. I do not surrender my freedoms except by my own rules, and choice. In reality, I never truly give up my freedom to love and be loved by others. This freedom, these wings, fit the way my heart works, and suit the true me that I’ve been becoming, for so long.
The following thoughts on “relationship anarchy” are in many ways reflective of my own style of polyamory: http://log.andie.se/post/26652940513/the-short-instructional-manifesto-for-relationship#disqus_thread