I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. Being in Berlin with Stefan, having recently been in a break-up with Dex. Having more chances than usual to talk about what does polyamory and non-monogamy in general mean to me. It all comes down to love. But as I have learned on this journey- love means so many different things to everyone.
Traditionally you can say, “I want to fall in love and settle down.” Everyone would probably say that they know what that love means. But do they? Even in a traditional relationship, everyone feels love and acts on love and understands love in a slightly different way from their friends, family, and usually their partner too. But how much are we talking about this?
I think that those of us who are polyamorous are always thinking and talking and trying to define what does this individual relationship look like. Much of that revolves around how do I love? And how do you love? And how does that work for us together? For me, even when I was in monogamous relationships understanding the love languages was a great start in understanding that love doesn’t always look the same to two different people. As a polyamorous person, I can use that as a foundation and build on it to try to figure out the best way our love works for us.
He Loves Me But Not Like You Assume
My relationship with Stefan has never been a traditional one. Our expectations for one another are low, we don’t spend a lot of time together, we don’t plan together, none of the things that people “assume” happen in a relationship. But we have been in THIS relationship for five years. THIS relationship works for us. He proves over and over his commitment to THIS relationship and me, even while maintaining this “otherness” from what people expect.
Some of my friends were distressed to learn after he picked me up from the airport and settled me into the apartment, he went back home to stay with his family for the night and didn’t stay with me. I on the other hand had never expected him to in the first place. He had already shown his love and care for me by being at the airport when I arrived, carrying my two suitcases up four flights of stairs, settling me in, asking for a grocery list, going to the market for me, and then hanging out talking laughing smoking weed and having really awesome reconnecting sex. After he left, I climbed into the big bed, spread out, and slept like a baby!
The kind of love and companionship we share is not predicated on moving “forward” in any way. It is sharing a mutually companionable afternoon and amazing sex, sure. But it is also, him being there for me in these very tangible ways. Because we don’t plan together, I had texted him back in June to tell him when I would be arriving in Berlin. His reply was, “OK will try to pick you up. Do you need to stay at the apartment? I’ll make sure it’s available.” Then he was there and the apartment was open. Done. No questions asked.
THIS relationship is not “a relationship” like any other. Say what you will about how it “looks” but this is a solid good relationship we built together to suit us perfectly.
Carried Away in the River or Walking on the Shore
One of my favorite word pictures for describing how I prefer to do relationships is a river. Traditional relationships follow a pretty prescribed path (sometimes called the Relationship Escalator.) I call that following the river. We two hop on rafts or inner tubes, we hold hands, and ride the river. Go where the water takes us, follow the bends and the curves, pushed only the way the river flows.
I prefer to walk along the side of the river with my partner. Sometimes we walk side by side, sometimes one of us goes up the bank a little and hacks their way through a new path or sits down in the trees for a rest, maybe one of us even walks on the other side of the river, but we are walking forward together. Partners and companions along the way, making conscious decisions about the direction we are going together.
I had this discussion with Said so many times. One of the insights he has was that it is often harder on the side of the river. You have to do more of the work yourself, you might have to forge your own trail, or the water washed a bridge out. Who knows, but there is value in the hard work of making your own way. The communication it takes to do this together. There is intention.
I also don’t think this only applies to non-monogamy. I think it would be great if we went into every relationship thinking with intention. Determining what it looks like, together. I just find in non-monogamy we have to look at it more closely than we did when we were monogamous.
Sometimes You Hop Back in the River
I know this is not always easy, being 100% intentional 100% of the time can be exhausting. It can also just be going so well, you somehow find yourself back in the rafts floating along. I think that’s what happened with Dex. I should have been even more intentional and diligent to keep an eye on where we were headed because he was not familiar with being non-monogamous and I knew it wasn’t necessarily what he wanted.
But it was such an easy fun relationship and very much what I needed when I got back home to the US, it was easy to let the intention slide and fall into very old traditional patterns. It wasn’t until one day he said to me something about “our two days” that I realized I was spending more time with him and giving him more of me than I was actually ok with. I guess that’s where you crawl back onto shore and figure it out again.
But What is Love Anyway?
I don’t have a good answer for that and it’s honestly one of my favorite things about being polyamorous. Love with Stefan means a completely different thing to us than love with Dex and me. Love with my BFF who is my life partner is different than love with my Berlin BFF. My friends are equally important in the scheme of my life as my romantic partners, they have higher priorities than most people place on “just friends.” I freaking love that!
Do I want another relationship that “looks” more traditional? Maybe. I enjoyed my relationship with Dex very much. Before that, until things went so badly with Said, I really enjoyed that companionate, more traditional appearing relationship. I like having someone to do things with. BUT I also like being able to be alone, do things on my own, invite my BFF as my plus one not “my man.”
I do know that in the next one, I will be mindful of my intentions in a relationship. I will be in a relationship where we do not “belong to one another” but we are instead walking side by side companionably along the path. Creating together what works for us. Polyamory will be the basis. No more monogamous men, hoping I will change my mind. It will be with someone who loves me FOR me, not in spite of me. It will be colorful and different because we will be creating it especially for us.