Last week I sent a picture to S, the friend who up until last September was strictly platonic, and who Jill and I would both like very much to take to bed. Nothing lascivious; just a shot of my usual adorable and sexy self, looking handsome as always. She replied, “I love this picture. I love the subject.” It’s a flattering comment, and one someone might hope to receive under such circumstances. Let’s break it down, shall we?
“I love the subject.” This is something a person might say of any work of visual art, be it a painting or a photograph. It is the sort of statement that can be made of a still life featuring a bowl of fruit just as it can a young girl with a pearl earring. Now, please understand that I am not in any way comparing myself to Joannes Vermeer’s masterwork. Simply know that, upon first reading my friend’s comment on the photo I sent, I assumed she meant it in the same way a wide-eyed museum-goer might: That is to say, with appreciation for the visual beauty but no real emotional investment or attachment.
Let’s re-read that statement: “I love the subject.” Wherein “the subject” is me. In other words, “I love you.” She may appreciate the subject from an aesthetic standpoint, but that’s why she began with “I love this picture.” The second sentence of her reply was an expression of her feelings for me personally. To be fair, it’s not like she hasn’t said as much prior to this, or that I haven’t said the same to her. But moreso than the typical three-word admission of love, it took that specific reply to drive home the point: S loves me, and I love her too.*
It’s not merely the love of two friends who have known each other for more than twenty-five years. It may have begun that way, but it has grown into something deeper and more substantial. It transcends sweet and caring, venturing at times into deeply romantic, with a dash of do-anything-for-you devotion, aided and abetted by sexual attraction to spare. And that’s when it hit me: I’m poly.
When I was in my early twenties, I remember asking my first girlfriend
– by then my ex – if she wanted to hang out one weekend when I was in town. Yes, we had sex a couple times; we were both single and had no real reason to abstain. If we ended up not having sex for whatever reason, I probably wouldn’t have been devastated. But I cared for her, even in light of our rough breakup several years earlier, and I wanted to spend time with her. Whether I was trying to relive the happy times we shared before mutual infidelity
got in the way I cannot say. However, I was pleased to see her, and I can’t say that temporarily resuming contact with her stunted my emotional development in any way.
Not long after that, I remember somebody calling me an asshole for maintaining contact with a different ex-girlfriend even though I had a new relationship. I wasn’t trying to date or have sex with this ex; my new girlfriend served both purposes perfectly, and at any rate I didn’t want to go back down that road with my ex. I just thought we could be friends. I cared for her – are you detecting a theme yet? – and, knowing that her home life was less than peaceful, I thought she might appreciate a little support. Anyway, Seinfeld had spent eight years showing that men and women could make a post-dating friendship work.**
Friendship is all it was, though. I wasn’t trying to sneak around behind my girlfriend’s back, nor was I in any way keeping my ex on the hook in case my new relationship fizzled quickly. I just wanted to stay connected to this person after the romantic and sexual aspect of our relationship had concluded. Is that weird? Does it come off as needy or clingy? Generally speaking, I don’t believe that I am a needy, clingy person. Weird, certainly. But not needy or clingy.
Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: I am non-monogamous for the sake of sex, not for the sake of love. I require physical variety more than the emotional equivalent. Given the choice between new women to fuck with the smallest amount of emotional connection as possible – or none at all – or new women to love emotionally without the possibility of sex, I imagine you already know which option I’m going to pick.***
That being said, however, I now understand, and to some extent I’m happy with, the fact that I am capable of multiple concurrent emotional relationships. I’m not even necessarily talking about love, though I would hate to rule it out. I guess what I’m talking about is care – there’s that word again – and, for lack of a better word, closeness, especially with the possibility – nay, likelihood – of sex. I’m talking about positive emotion, whatever you want to call it. While I definitely enjoy the spontaneous excitement of casual sex, I’ve almost always found sex more gratifying when I’ve known the person beforehand, even for a short while. Meeting someone in a bar or other pick-up location and fucking them immediately is always a thrill. But at least for me it’s trumped by the thrill of spending some time wondering what someone looks like naked or how they sound when they come, and then getting to find out.
None of this should be taken as any indication that I am insistent upon getting to know someone well before we have sex, or that I’m necessarily going to grow attached afterwards, or for that matter before. For discretionary reasons I rarely cruise the local bars, and aside from occasional forays on OKCupid I am not actively looking for people online. So hypothetically speaking, if I’m having sex with you it’s probably because we have already developed some kind of rapprt that goes beyond, say, you taking my order at Starbucks two mornings a week. Either we know each other through Twitter or the blogosphere, or else we are acquainted offline. Additionally, I’ve never been much for a one-and-done; if the sex is good I’ll want another at-bat. That’s admittedly due less to my possibly being poly and more to my being a greedy motherfucker.
There is, admittedly, a downside to poly, and that is the increased risk of heartbreak and hurt. It’s just common sense: More emotional attachment means more vulnerability. If you open your heart to anyone, whether you’ve known the person for a week or a decade, whether you met him through a personal ad or you came out of her vagina the day you were born, there is a chance that this person will hurt you. This seems to be the hardest lesson to learn, and one that most if not all of our poly-identified friends report having struggled with at some point. It isn’t an easy lesson. No one likes to be rejected, or hurt. I can’t imagine that anyone enjoys being told, whether explicitly or implicitly, that they aren’t good enough for another person, or even that the other person is done loving them.
But is there anybody reading this who doesn’t feel like boldly tasting all that life has to offer, including its at-times daunting risk of heartbreak, is preferable to sitting at home too afraid to venture outside? I question whether the pain of loss brought about by the end of a relationship is in reality any worse than the shame and embarrassment of defeat in sports, business, or any of a number of other ventures. I guess it depends on the individual.
For me, it’s probably a moot point; while my wife is generally comfortable with physical non-monogamy, love is an altogether different story. It is her hardest limit
, the one absolutely unbreakable boundary. For her sake, I am capable of not having multiple concurrent relationships. But I cannot deny that there is a part of me which is poly, and which truly feels something for the most of women with whom I have had sex.
In closing, the one conclusion to which I’ve arrived is that more love cannot possibly be a bad thing unless it somehow takes love away from one’s primary partner. But the way I see it, love is not unlike oxygen, or the stars in space: It’s the sort of thing of which one cannot truly run out; if one is inclined to love, there will always be enough. So how can a surplus of love be a negative? In a world that at times seems increasingly shitty, increasingly unfair and imbalanced, who would begrudge someone as much love as he or she can handle?
Note: This is our 750th post. We’re three quarters of the way to a thousand!
*For the sake of brevity, I’ve omitted Jill’s name from this paragraph, but I am compelled to point out that her feelings about S are similar to my own, just as S’ feelings about Jill are similar to her feelings about myself.
**Yes, I know it’s a television show. Just go with it.
***The first one.