The Heart of Polyamory: The Elephant in the Living Room
By Millie Jackson
I continue to be very close with an ex girlfriend. We were partnered in what was my last monogamous relationship. After four years together, we attended a workshop on polyamory at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. This gave us a context and the vocabulary to begin seriously discussing the prospect of opening our relationship. Although we agreed that polyamory aligned with our philosophical and spiritual beliefs, we didn’t know how to access the poly life-style. Our relationship ultimately ended after almost eight years together before we had the opportunity to explore polyamory.
There were ups and downs throughout the break-up. Since we were financially enmeshed and shared a lease on a house that was our home and our businesses, this process dragged out for an excruciating six months. This emotionally challenging period eventually led to us taking much needed time apart without any contact. This was difficult given that we had been not only lovers but best friends, roommates, business associates, and travel companions. We did everything together--we shared expenses, shared meals, and shared a level of intimacy we had never known before.
Given the strength of love that was present and the history that had been shared, after two years and much healing we eventually came back together to explore new relationship dynamics. As we reestablished a friendship, together we attended educational and social events hosted by the local poly group to which I now belonged. However, the same issues that were the demise of our first relationship, continued to tax us. We realized we were not destined to be lovers, but we remained committed to our friendship.
As I began to date again, she struggled with feelings of jealousy, and I struggled in a “you don’t get to be jealous of me” way. This necessitated more time apart, but I am happy to say that we are now back in each other’s lives. My ex began dating someone else and was able to let go of her jealousy of me. The person she is dating, by the way, is someone I had been encouraging her to pursue for over a year.
Though my ex and I no longer have romantic or sexual feelings for each other, her girlfriend has felt threatened by me. Discussion of me joining them at a concert was met with protest by her girlfriend who considered it an unwelcomed “threesome”. Any other friend can join them socially, however, without that objection. It’s been awkward at times when I hang out with my ex. She is guarded about wanting her girlfriend to know—not because we are doing anything wrong, mind you, but because of her girlfriend’s insecurities and their lack of communication. This is a prime example of one of the ways some couples can tap dance around uncomfortable subjects, and unfortunately, avoid true intimacy and growth opportunities while letting “issues” perpetuate. This dynamic is far less sustainable in polyamory than it seems to be in monogamy.
I honor where my ex is with her relationship, but I don’t get to spend much time with her unless her girlfriend is out of town or otherwise engaged. I no longer ask to join them socially. Even when we are at the same event, which isn’t uncommon, I don’t sit with them in order to avoid their unspoken tension. I admit, though, that this is annoying. It is one thing to have the awkward awareness of the unacknowledged proverbial elephant in the living room; it is another thing to BE the elephant in the living room.
Within their monogamous context, our friendship is viewed by her girlfriend as being “unhealthy”. Ironically, it is the merits of our relationship that make it problematic for her simply because I am an ex partner. I would be thrilled for a lover to have a friend like me. Yet she takes issue because our relationship is so caring, honest, kind, loyal, accommodating and dependable. My ex and I can and do tell each other everything (except what her girlfriend tells her not to tell me). Despite how honorable my relationship is with my ex, it seems to be too much for a monogamous mindset to fully grasp. And that is too much for my polyamorous mindset to fully grasp.