Polyamorous lifestyle not just about lots of sex
I'M at the pathologist again. She smiles at me.
I look at the pathology form. My doctor forgot to write out the STI tests. I rush back to him and he scribbles on the page. HIV, HEP, SYP, CHM, HSV.
"Round 2", I say to her. This is our ritual.
"How many girlfriends this time?" she asks.
I pretend to count on two hands. "Three and a half right now," I say, and she laughs. It's a cute little dance we have going on. I'll be back for 'the usual' in about 2 months.
48 hours later, I'm collecting the results. I text my partners "All good" to let them know I got the all-clear. I don't feel anxiety myself, but one of my partners, Annie, likes the peace of mind that comes with the routine tests.
I've always known that monogamy wasn't for me. Probably from when I was 12. I didn't even seek relationships until I was 15, but I knew that I wouldn't want to be trapped without a diverse support network.
It's before dinner on our regular Wednesday night and I'm sitting on the couch with Annie, cuddling and having a catch-up about our week.
She saw Chris this week - they've been together about two years. Chris is the opposite of me - heavily introverted and needs a lot of time to himself. They work well with a low-pressure relationship.
Too much contact and they stress each other out. They catch up about once a fortnight for dinner, cuddles, probably more. It's lovely to hear that they're going well. I don't have to ask much; it's none of my business. But, it's always good to know that someone I care about is happy.
I tell Annie that I had dinner with Dianne and her parents on Monday night - Dianne hasn't told her parents she's poly yet, but she's not feeling any pressure. She's still learning how - or even if - she wants to label herself; there are too many types of relationships once the door opens to non-monogamy.
Dianne had another boyfriend, but he let her know he wasn't up for dating right now. They're friends, and from time to time they might sleep together. But it's not 'a relationship'. She's deciding if she eventually wants to try to find another boyfriend, but she says she is in no rush.
I'm always open about my relationships if asked, but my grandma doesn't exactly know all the logistics. Questions are always welcome; it's a great opportunity for discussion about what's normal for society, the narrative we are expected to live by, and what it feels like to break expectations.
Sometimes I do get the sense that an individual is not going to be open to my lifestyle. I don't drink so my dates tend to look something like going out for cake. I was walking to cake with a new prospect - Francis, when she asked, "So what did you get up to today?" Truthfully, I told her that I visited my friend, and mentioned that he'd wanted a chat because he and his wife had recently decided to open up their relationship.
She stopped dead in the street, her hand covering her mouth. 'Oh! I could NEVER do that!" she squealed.
Both cake and company were delicious, but brief. Polyamory is not for everyone.
Bella and I have been seeing each other on and off for about three years. She once told me that she felt polyamory was for her since she was six.
We arrive at our favourite Thai, and Bella starts telling me the latest about Eric, a German guy she's been dating for about a year. Whenever I meet him, we end up talking about economics for hours. He's been travelling for work, and is about to leave again for a few months. Bella says she's finding it hard being long distance.
We order our food and start talking about what's gone wrong with Eric. At first, I think Bella is simply feeling fed up because he's heading away again, but something different is troubling her. She tells me that he was down in Melbourne last week when he reconnected with an old flame.
That was fine, she tells me. She's a nice girl; Bella's met her several times, and the two of them even Facetime from time to time. But Eric and his ex went to a restaurant called Pastuzo that Bella's been telling Eric she wants to try, for months.
She's had some twinges of ... something. Jealousy? This was a special thing between Bella and Eric - at least it was in Bella's eyes. "And he went and took someone else there", she says, resentfully.
She says she's feeling bad about resenting the situation, but also that she can't help how she feels. She tells me she knows it's okay to feel upset about it. I nod.
She says she's needing to share something special with Eric and him taking someone else to the restaurant hasn't fulfilled her need for a special connection. Sometimes she describes these particular frustrations as her 'monogamy-hangover'. I like that.
Ahh, jealousy. That most complex, daunting, destructive and universal of emotions. The poly community regularly talks about jealousy. Most people struggle to recognise and process jealousy effectively, even with open communication and honesty. It's hard work, for sure. It can take a lot of talking over.
I had a friend, Greg, interested in polyamory. He was dipping his toe in the water for the first time. He said, surprised, "I thought it would all be about wild sex, but all you guys do is talk about relationships, 24/7! When does the sex start?" Greg has a point. We certainly do our fair share of talking.
Bella and I both know not to stop at the 'jealousy' label. Jealousy is a question, not an answer. We're walking back to Bella's house. I ask her if she's mentioned her feelings to him and she said not yet. I give her my classic "tell him how you feel" rant, and she agrees.
As she pulls her phone out to draft a text, there's one waiting from Eric. "Have a great date night!", she reads out loud, "Should probably talk about Pastuzo; I know it was somewhere you wanted to go. Was a bit last minute, but I should've mentioned it. Anyway, I'll explain tomorrow. Love you".
People often thinks that it's jealousy that kills poly relationships. But I believe it's poor communication. These days I work very hard to make sure that we can always tell each other anything without anticipating painful reactions or any reactions in general. There needs to be a sense of safety.
One thing that frustrates me is that people assume that because I have multiple relationships, I think that everyone should. I really don't. I won't speak for everyone, but generally, people in the poly community very much recognise that relationships need to suit the people participating in them.
Our commitments are as individual as we are. Socialising with the poly community very much opened my eyes to the diversity and complexity of ethical non-monogamy.
I wish everyone could be more curious about how strangers live, and that they wouldn't judge until they hear what it's like through other people's eyes.
Eliot Redelman runs the Sydney Polyamory dating group.