The Permission of Polyamory

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The Permission of PolyamoryEighteen months ago I was a single twenty-nothing (or thereabouts) in London town, free as a bird and dating a string of wildly inappropriate men – including a guy who seemed to think he was living in the seventies, and a university professor who lived above a furniture store with his Dad, – leaving in my wake a series of semi-dissatisfying sexual experiences I hoped I might be able to transform into relationships of some kind. Funnily enough, although I was calling myself monogamous at the time, or at least single-and-dating, I think I slept with more people that year than I ever had before. Or have since! come to think of it. I was coming out of a far more complex period, and for someone who lost her virginity at eighteen and is only just coming up to twenty-four now, I think I’ve had a wider variety of relationships and learned more about love than most people have at my age. But I digress.

Just over a year ago I started “seeing” a lovely married couple. It certainly wasn’t planned – well, not on my part, at least, and I don’t think on their part either – and at the time I thought I was just having fun: continuing my single-and-dating status with a lot of deviant sex. But after two months of weekends with them, and a growing sense of happiness and satisfaction I realised it wasn’t something I wanted to give up, and so I took a deep breath, stood up, and proclaimed to the world that I am non-monogamous. Perhaps it was brave, but as it turned out, non-monogamy isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s not that frightening either.

Now 2014 has begun, and I am still with that couple, and I have another partner, and words like “long-term” and “love” actually seem possible. I’ve never had any relationships last as long as these ones, and for the first time in my life I feel able to stand up and really claim them as mine. To say “this is me, and these are the partners I choose to give my time to.” Which is a lovely thing, and it takes me back to something I’ve written about once or twice before: this wonderful permission that non-monogamy gives me, to forge my own relationships and to decide how they work, and what they mean.

Those of you who have been reading my Life on the Swingset column from the beginning will know that I have spent quite some time avoiding labels. For almost a year I have felt that the term “non-monogamous” served all my needs: it is encompassing and it begs further explanation; it is a term that invites people to ask questions before they make assumptions. Or at least that’s the hope; and it does work sometimes. But my choice of words wasn’t only about how other people might see me, it was also about the way I wanted to structure my relationships for myself. I’m really enjoying being in long-term relationships (depending on your definition of long-term, but over a year in one case, and pushing a year in the other), and although I’ve had – as I mentioned – very few partners (sexual or otherwise) outside of these relationships since I started identifying as non-monogamous, I like having that door open. They might not be numerous, but the handful of dalliances I have had over the past year have been a lot of fun! (And, I might mention, a lot more satisfying than the encounters I had when I was “single-and-dating”.) But you can see how I somewhat buck the trends of most non-monogamy styles: I’m polyamorous (yes, I’m finally saying it), but also kind of a swinger, but more of a progressive swinger (thank you Swingsetters), but I don’t really do swing-parties, but I do enjoy BDSM play parties… it gets a little complex. But that’s okay! Because that’s the kind of freedom I feel non-monogamy affords me; it’s not only a freedom to enjoy more than one partner, but also freedom away from the assumptions often imposed upon monogamy. (In fact I still think the world has a lot of work to do where monogamy is concerned, but that’s another story for another day. Suffice to say it can be a wonderful thing, but it needs to shrug off a bit of its heritage.)

Back to the point at hand: non-monogamy has helped me let go of the idea that there is a one and only way to do things. That there is even a be all and end all. There isn’t, and what I really like is being on the path, traveling and changing. For the first time in my life I don’t feel certain about what my romantic future looks like, or even what I want it to look like. In some regards I have wishes and hopes for the future, but right now it seems entirely possible that I could end up in a closed triad; or in the midst of a very open polyamorous family; or even, yes, monogamous! of all crazy ideas. The point is that I adore the possibility, and I adore the potential. To steal a line from Mr Anderson, anything could happen in the next half hour.

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Harper Eliot is a writer and podcaster whose work mainly centers around eroticism and social observation. You can find an archive of work, and links to all her other projects, on her website Harper Eliot. Harper lives in London, but rarely sees her own house, spending most of her time on public transport, listening to podcasts and tweeting too much. Her vices include cigarettes, lubricant, Earl Grey tea, opera, nail polish, and pinwheels.

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