Quantum Love: a Beginnerís Guide to Polyamory
by Emily Nagoski

For me, it started with a guy at a party. He was so stylish and so smart and so glitteringly charming and so obviously flirting with me, I just had to have him naked in my bed. I'm sure you know the (tingly) feeling. I approached him confidently, chatted him up just like a pro, and half an hour later we were sitting in each other's laps, tongue wrestling.

"Come home with me," I smiled through his lips.

"Yes," he growled back.

"I'll go get my coat"

"I'll go tell my wife."

Now, I've never actually had a bucket of ice water chucked directly into my lap, but if I did, I bet it would feel just like that.

"Yergonnawha?" No longer capable of coherent speech, I sputtered at him and extricated my limbs from his.

"No, no, it's okay, last I saw she was hooking up with a very sexy young lady, she's probably looking for me right now too."

You know that noise that cartoon characters make when they shake their heads in confusion? I made that noise.

In short, I did not go home with this fella that night -- I was too preoccupied recovering from the metaphorical splash -- but that was the beginning of a remarkable, educational, and eventually profoundly erotic relationship.

See, I had all the same initial responses that lots of folks have to polyamory -- I feared the betrayal, the rejection, the pain that must be inherent in seeing your lover love someone else. Don't you get jealous? Don't you get resentful? Aren't you afraid you'll get abandoned? Aren't you afraid you might fall in love with someone else and want to end your current relationship and it'll all just get really messy and painful and difficult, and won't it generally be all those things that we hope to escape when we settle into blissful, happily-ever-after monogamy? How can you ever feel secure?

It's difficult, was the essential answer. Yes it's messy and painful sometimes. Yes, relationships end and yes, people get hurt. But (and this is where my mind-fuck came) people get hurt anyway, right? They make messes of their relationships, they fall in love with new people, and relationships end. That's humanity, not polyamory. It's monogamy, it's heterosexuality, it's homosexuality; it's religious and secular bonds, it's legal and non-binding binding contracts; it's life.

When I'm in a poly relationship, I have permission to mess up, to be complicated, to be human, and above all to love and be loved, even though I feel all those "imperfect" things.

Moreover, in polyamory, there is no social construction to rely on, no pre-written script to validate my emotions. So I am thoroughly me, with a responsibility to be honest with myself and with everyone else involved about my passions, resentments, needs, desires, my history and my dreams.

Honesty is really hard. It's hard to tell someone that I want to end a sexual relationship when I haven't got, "Well, we just shouldn't be doing this, it's not Right" to fall back on. I have to say, "I'm not into being sexual with you now. I've really enjoyed it, but it's not what I want now."

And it's hard to hear that the man I love wants to spend all weekend with someone else, when I was hoping he would mow the lawn -- and I can't spit, "You're going to spend it with that woman, I just know it." First of all, he already told me what his plans were, and second of all I've met "that woman," I really like her, and I love the delight she brings to my lover's eyes. But that doesn't lessen my desire for him to mow the lawn. This is very hard stuff.

In the relatively short time that I've had this way of looking at love, I've learned more about myself and my heart than I learned in years of monogamy. I've taken on a far greater sense of responsibility for my feelings, and I've learned, amazingly, not to take responsibility for other people's feelings. I'm liberated from the constraints of monogamy -- and as a consequence I'm less secure, I'm constantly at risk, constantly changing. I work much harder, and I get much more from my loves than I ever did when I only loved one at a time.

As a poly woman, I feel much more responsible for my actions because they affect not only me and my partner, but also my other partners and their other partners...I am tangibly aware of my connection with the lovers of the world.

Now something has happened that must seem inevitable to those outside the polyamorous community: I have fallen into a passionate lust for a beautiful man who would clench his thighs around me, bite my lips, ravish me, heart and soul, winning my heart as thoroughly as he might win my body.

But he has not told his wife.

We met initially, over beers and life stories, to discuss a performance project. We shared lustful gazes, impassioned rants, and laughter that made people at other tables look at us.

We learned more and more about each other, but the gold on his left hand remained unexplained until I started talking about the polyamory article I was thinking of writing.

He responded with, "Right on, that's so great! Given my situation, I'd love to see something on it."

"And what precisely is your situation?" "Ah, well I have this legally binding contract that means I--"

"You're married."

"Right -- you know it's funny, I never think about it that way. That implies an exclusivity that we don't participate in."

I asked if I could interview him for this article. He said, "Oh, yes!" (He's familiar with my writing, it's why we met initially.)

Then I asked if I could interview his wife too, and he said, "What would she know about polyamory?"

Well, my luscious, that is precisely the question.

He told me he was in a transition, that he was frustrated with communication that didn't work, rules about life that didn't match his internal experience. He was learning lots of new things, trying new things, searching for a new erotic discourse that fit with how he loved. He sounded just like me. I wanted to fuck him right there in the bar.

Now I'm faced with an ethical dilemma: should I be whole-hog sexual with an individual doesn't feel tied his commitment, even though his partner probably does? If he's been totally honest with me, and I've been totally honest with him, but he has not been totally honest with his wife...am I by proxy being not totally honest with his wife?

I want to tell him to put his hands on me, one on my neck and one on my ass and kiss me. But I also want to sit him down and explain about loving honesty, genuineness, and his right to expect unconditional positive regard. I want to tell him that I think any relationship that participants choose to make work can work. Regardless of how many people are involved, what the rules are, or whether or not society condones those rules: if everyone involved agrees to follow the rules, it'll stay a relationship. And I want to tell him that that has nothing to do with whether a relationship should stay a relationship.

Weeks later, I have made my choice to fuck or not to fuck. I have clearly communicated my feelings to this warm-eyed married man.

I'm not going to tell you what my decision was. Instead, I leave you with your own ideas about commitment, communication, love, freedom, and choice.