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'I was in a happy relationship with my boyfriend. Then he encouraged me to date his friend.'

Ten years ago, after leaving two monogamous marriages in a row, I found myself happily exploring the delights of polyamory as the “primary partner” of a man we’ll call Mr X, who had introduced me to the concept — and, in time, to several of my other boyfriends.

I had never tried such a thing when he suggested it. Never even considered it. But it sounded really interesting, and, well, monogamy had not been working out so well for me.

Turned out, I loved the freedom to pursue connections with people who intrigued me — without sneaking around, and without any restrictions on where it should lead. I was also pleasantly surprised at my absence of jealousy whenever Mr X hooked up with someone else. I discovered that for me at least, jealousy arose from feeling threatened or deceived. But we had a firm agreement never to start something without informing one another first, which helped me feel safe and stable.

Unsure what polyamory actually means? Watch this video to find out.

Video by SBS Insight

Such open communication was one of the best gifts polyamory gave me: learning how to be completely honest with myself, and with everyone else. This honesty was possible because nothing was “forbidden” or off the table, as so many things had been in every prior relationship I’d had.

Now, I could ask for anything I wanted. If a partner wasn’t comfortable with whatever-it-was, then negotiation started, and a compromise found that made everyone happy. We all had permission to explore, to experiment, to try new things. No one had decided ahead of time how this must go or must turn out.

A year into our relationship, Mr X introduced me to a good friend of his — let’s call him Mr Man — who was not polyamorous. In fact, he’d had only a few, very unhappy experiences with romantic relationships prior to meeting me, and pretty much decided he just wasn’t built for love.

Definitely not relationship material, right? But I liked him. A lot. And since my life then was all about figuring out what I wanted and asking for it, I made my interest clear.

He was flattered — and attracted — but told us all that dating a friend’s girlfriend was not something he could see himself doing.

Mr X, a polyamory true believer, lobbied him hard, though, assuring him that it was really, truly not merely ‘okay’ with everyone, but something we were all enthusiastically in favour of.

“This will be good for you,” Mr X told him. “Low stakes, no pressure — a way to learn more about romance without such big expectations or commitments.”

Mr Man was still dubious but eventually decided to give it a try.

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It was so, so good. Mr X had another serious girlfriend at the time, and the four of us got along great. We weren’t a true “quad” — Mr X and I were the only ones bed-hopping in that arrangement — but all four of us were very closely connected, and we all learned so much about communication, self-knowledge, and opening our hearts wide.

We gave ourselves the freedom to choose and to adapt, uncaged by any preexisting set of imperative rules, either monogamous or polyamorous. For the first time in my life — or Mr Man’s — we were listening to our own needs, and to each other’s, and crafting relationships based on that, not on anything some external authority had dictated. We had found a community that permitted us to do what was actually happening on the ground — as best we could.

And still, that ground eventually shifted, for many reasons beyond the scope of this article, and trouble came — again—to paradise. Mr Man and I agreed to part ways while I tried to salvage my primary relationship with Mr X, and that was painful. Things grew even more painful as Mr X and I failed to fix what was wrong between us and parted as well.

I was alone for a while after that, dating nobody. I missed Mr Man but concentrated on my own work, home, and writing. After some time had passed, however, Mr Man and I reconnected.

We still agreed that polyamory had been a wonderful gift. He would never have felt safe to date me if this experiment hadn’t been purposely and openly tangential and temporary. Without that understanding, I would never have dated “Mr Clearly-not-relationship-material” either. We had both crashed and burned in relationships that didn’t work out like they were “supposed to,” and would have never given each other a chance under traditional, monogamous rules.

After growing disillusioned with monogamy, I’d been convinced that polyamory was the answer for me, forever. But that path had surprised me too.

When Mr Man said that he “would always be grateful for the circus, but didn’t want to live there anymore,” and suggested we try monogamy again, with each other — I was surprised at how appealing that sounded. Polyamory had allowed us to let our guards down, and by the time we knew this relationship wasn’t going to be “tangential or temporary” after all, the scariest questions had already been answered.

We went back to monogamy. And it’s still working.

We’ve just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary, and I’ve felt zero desire to bring in anyone else, not even for a minute. We, together, are everything we want.

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So, what’s changed this time? A truer sense of agency, I think.

Experience has finally taught us that no matter what set of rules one chooses, sooner or later something unanticipated or impermissible inside that cage will happen. When it does, we need to give ourselves and each other permission to deal with what’s actually happening, wherever that takes us.

No one way is right for everyone. But polyamory was just the right thing for me, at just the right time in my life; and because my always-monogamous husband was willing to date another guy’s girlfriend, it worked out pretty well for him too.

Have you ever tried polyamory? If so, please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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