"When they leave me, it's usually for The One," my lover, Charles, said. I was gushing about the new man in my life, and Charles was adjusting admirably to the news. But then, he had to. That's the deal for a man in a polyamorous, open marriage who dates multiple partners.
It came as no surprise to me, either, that I met The One while I was involved with Charles. Despite the doom-mongering from friends and family about dating a married man, I knew I was more open to falling in love than I had ever been. I can't count the number of times I heard "You're wasting your time" or "You'll never meet anyone else." But buoyed by the confidence and happiness that comes from a healthy relationship, I was more able to recognize and accept the right guy when he came along. And my experiences on the periphery of non-monogamy taught me a lot about relationships, lessons I'm applying in my new, monogamous relationship.
1. You will be attracted to people outside your relationship
Having an open relationship has never been my goal, but I'm not going to bury my head in romantic sand. The truth is that staying monogamous is a challenge. It must be, or there wouldn't be so much infidelity. Acknowledging this inevitability means my boyfriend and I can deal with it from within our relationship instead of pretending we'll only ever have eyes (and maybe hands and lips and everything else) for each other.
2. Trust is more than just monogamy
Trust is knowing someone will come back, not believing they will never leave. Small children who regularly see their parents going out and returning are more secure than those who aren't used to being left alone. Every time someone chooses you, it affirms your relationship – even more so if they have a choice to be with someone else. If your partner is flirting with someone else but comes home with you, they do so in freedom. You can trust that choice more than if you never let them explore admiration from others.
3. The only way to have complete trust is to talk about everything
Communication before you have problems will head off half of them. Talking through problems will solve the other half. Charles and I never argued, because nothing ever got to the point where it bred resentment. I never had to guess or assume anything. I knew everything I wanted to know. If either of us were feeling insecure we talked it through. If, and I really mean when, you or your partner starts feeling attracted to someone else, creating a safe space to talk about it takes away much of the threat.
4. The biggest threat to a relationship is you, not other people
Happily partnered people don't leave for someone else. A one-night stand might happen in the best of relationships, a brief excitement that is later regretted, usually because they got caught. But someone who's unhappy and resentful, bored or not getting their needs met will leave you one day regardless of whether your relationship is monogamous or polyamorous.
5. Your partner is not enough
In a poly relationship, other partners can be a source of happiness, self-esteem and satisfaction. Monogamists shouldn’t rely on their partner for all of these things all of the time either. Have friends, hobbies and places separate from your relationship and don’t expect one person to be lover, friend, parent, child carer, cheerleader and counselor.
6. Your partner needs to know how important they are to you
Even knowing Charles was juggling multiple partners, I never doubted how important I was to him, because he never left an information gap for me to fill in. He told me all the time how special I was; he'd message me to let me know how much he was looking forward to seeing me again. Lack of appreciation makes your partner needy and insecure, not sharing your time and attention with work, friends or family.
Daily life in long-term relationships can make it hard to feel that excitement, let alone communicate it. Have date nights instead of just flopping in front of the TV together and make the buildup to those nights as much a part of the event as the date itself. Charles and I never did the couple-y, lounge around in unflattering clothes part -- and it made each meeting spark.
7. It's not a competition
I've always felt like past boyfriends compared me to other women. Some of them directly pointed out attractive women who were thinner, younger or, in one case, more innocent-acting than me. Others did not, but I still assumed they were at risk whenever a thinner, younger, more attractive, different woman was around. Dating Charles meant I had to reconcile myself to being one of many, but I also discovered that did nothing to lessen my appeal. I stopped resenting other women or seeing them as competition, because I wasn't going to lose what I had if he was with them, too. As a result, I'm much more at ease with other women than I was before, which is a good thing for every aspect of my life, not just my current relationship.
8. Expectations are everything
When I first got involved with Charles, he outlined the small print. He would never leave his wife. He would only stay over by pre-arrangement. His wife would know about me (she is just as active in the poly world as he is), and he didn't think he could be in love with two people at the same time.
With my expectations managed, I didn't run into brick walls trying to make the relationship something it wasn't. I was free to enjoy all the things it did provide. Friendship, support, great sex, an emotional connection, but not "love."
In my new relationship, the scope of my expectations is wider and deeper, but one thing I know will never happen is living in the same place. We live in different countries, and neither of us wants to move, so I’ve accepted that. I'm not secretly hoping he'll change his mind the more he falls in love, which means not storing up disappointment for the future.
9. The end isn't The End
Poly relationships have more ebb and flow and more overlap. Things are more likely to develop into something else than to end. Charles is friends with all his previous lovers. I've always hated mine in the end or, at the very minimum, felt a lack of interest bordering on hate. But Charles and I haven't had any breakup drama to go through – merely an adjustment. And he's as delighted for me as I am grateful to him for clearing my head of the bad relationship habits monogamy led me into. No more jealousy or competitiveness, no hiding my feelings about issues in case my boyfriend just agrees with me and ends it. I'm not going to allow complacency and dependency to creep in.
That's quite a lot of lessons learned from some "wasted time."