Looking back at my monogamous life with a polyamorous mindset

I have lived most of my life in a monogamous mindset with no awareness of alternative options

From my earliest dating experiences around age 14, it was always the accepted, default assumption that I can only date one person at a time. If I developed feelings for a new person, that would mean I had to break things off with the person I was dating at the time.

This is pretty much the same inherited and learned mindset that 99% of people grow up with.

I never considered there might be another way. Every example and role model around me was a dyad in an exclusive arrangement. My first experience of ‘falling in love’ was at 15, with a girl in my class who had just broken up with her boyfriend. I put all of my energy into creating something with her and got very excited. One day I invited her to join me for a volunteering project that she told me she was interested in, and she said she was sick. Sitting on the bus back home after the project, I saw her at a bus stop, kissing her ‘ex’-boyfriend passionately. I learned that she was using me to get her boyfriend jealous in order to get back together with him. It was my first time feeling the highs of romantic love, and the lows of feeling rejected. Clearly, I reasoned, if she was interested in him now, she would not be into me anymore. I licked my wounds and carried on with my life.

I later had a 3 year intensely romantic and supportive relationship with a girl in my class from ages 16-19. It was overall a positive and nurturing experience for me, yet she often displayed jealousy over my having close female friends. I brushed that behaviour off as being ‘intense love’ that I should feel flattered over. I had always felt closer to women and my closest friends were mostly female. We had a couple of breakups, during which time I dated someone else. Again, when it looked like we might be getting back together, I never questioned that I must stop seeing the person I had been dating more casually.

About 2.5 years into the relationship, she told me that she has been seeing another man when I had been away. This lasted a few months until she decided to end it before telling me about it. I remember mainly feeling a sense of betrayal because of the lying and hiding. There was no intense jealousy of her being with another man. I’d like to think that had she come to me and said she wants to have another partner who she could see more regularly (I was away for long periods of time), then I would have been willing to discuss it. In the event, I agreed to stay in the relationship for a while longer, but it did not feel the same as trust was broken.

In my later long-term monogamous relationships, there had almost always been occasions where I felt attraction, both sexual and emotional, to a person other than my current partner. When those were urges I did not act on, I felt I was being ‘good at monogamy’. Yet, the emotions were real and I couldn’t explain to myself how come I am feeling them while still knowing I love my partner. In a couple of instances, I did act on these urges and kissed, or made out with someone else. I felt a tremendous amount of shame and confusion over my actions, which I always explained to myself as a momentary lapse in judgement which will not repeat.

Telling my partner that I have those feelings for another, was out of the question in my monogamous mindset. It was my personal hell, not something I should bother her with. I did not want to hurt her. I was afraid that she will leave me if she knew the truth. Those were my rationalisations. After noticing this might be a pattern for me, I decided that I need to be more conscious and more honest.

In my mid-20s, I had an opportunity to go abroad for a study year. I was living with my girlfriend at the time but she could not come with me. It was just for one year, yet I decided to be true to myself and tell her that I don’t think I can stay faithful while away from her. My solution was for us to break up before I leave so I can be ‘free’ to explore other connections abroad. While this was very emotionally painful for her, I felt that this was me being ethical. I explored a few casual relationships while away, making sure to let the women I dated know that there is a time limit on our connection. When I felt they were becoming emotionally attached to me, I broke things off. After 6 months of living abroad, I renewed contact with my girlfriend in London and invited her to join me. The unspoken understanding was that we would simply continue where we’d left off, in our monogamous relationship. On our return to London, I struggled to come to terms with the routine of monogamy. Again, I found myself being strongly attracted to another woman, pretending it wasn’t happening but not able to accept the reality of monogamy. I decided this means I no longer loved my girlfriend and so, after a year back in London, I told her we have to break up.

A year later, we met at my house party, reconnected and began dating again. This time I told myself I will do everything I can to make it work and show her I am serious about our relationship. To demonstrate how serious I was, I proposed marriage. We were married in 2000 and things seemed to be settling. I had a great opportunity to relocate for my career. Before that move, I once again met someone, at a party, and we drunkenly kissed. Feeling a lot of guilt, I decided to tell my wife what happened. She was less upset about the kiss than about the realisation that I had an emotional connection with this person. This was a crisis point which we were able to come out of and still complete the relocation. However, her trust in me never fully came back. The time we spent abroad was very difficult for our marriage, as I worked long hours and she struggled to manage on her own without language skills. After a year there, we grew apart to the point of living in separate rooms.

Out of desperation, and having no one to turn to for help, we discussed and eventually agreed to have an open marriage along the lines of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. As most experts will tell you, opening up the relationship will never fix what’s broken. After a total of 10 years together, we separated for the last time. I moved away and dated casually for a few months before embarking on another monogamous relationship that lasted 5 years. It was only after that relationship ended, that I found out about the concept of Polyamory.

As I was listening to my date, whom I just met on a dating app, explain why she no longer wants to have exclusive relationships, why after divorce and raising a kid, she wants to have her freedom and not be limited… everything started to make sense to me.

It took me some time to practice polyamory and multigamy in its myriad variations before I could definitively say, I have always been polyamorous but did not know it. I always had the capacity and capability to experience attraction and love for multiple people at the same time. But society never presented this as an option, let alone approved of it.

I want to see this change. I want to see movies and books, and school lessons that showcase the entire spectrum of human relations in all its rainbow colours and beautiful shapes.

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