For a very long time I’ve wanted to try and share my experience with polyamory, since it seems to be a fairly common practice in the BDSM “community.” I feel like many people who are new to BDSM are going to find that many potential partners already have partners of one sort or another, and are likely to be unfamiliar with the practice; I know I was. I don’t really feel like I’m experienced enough to advise others, but I wanted to share what is was like for me, so that others might be able to see what sort of issues are possible, and avoid them. (If you do want to advice on polyamory, I’ve read through these two guides and they seem solid.)
Longtime readers will be familiar with my first D/s relationship. I got involved with, and then started dating. a polyamorous, switchy woman who I’ve referred to here as Tavi. And I wrote more frequently at the time so there is a lot to go back and look at concerning our relationship, but there are things that I wasn’t prepared to write about at the time.
I knew I was looking for trouble from the beginning, I’m a big boy and I made my decisions at the time and I’ll live with them. I don’t want to come off sounding like the relationship was a negative experience for me, or that Tavi did anything wrong, but I do want to talk about what it is like being a secondary partner, when you’re monogamous.
I’m a romantic, foolishly so. and I have been as long as I can remember. I have always wanted to find my “one true love.” However, I’ve grown up and discovered that life isn’t like The Princess Bride much at all. In my adolescence, prior to discovering BDSM, I found it harder and harder to conceive of someone who would fit every part of me. After discovering BDSM, it became impossible, I saw how common it was for people to realize that they have needs that cannot be filled by any one person, and so they have more than one.
I am having a hard time at this point, trying to describe why I’m not poly without insulting poly people, or implying that they aren’t loving right. Which, I’m not trying to do. I just don’t work that way. Love, attraction, submission are all linked closely together for me. When I’m in a happy relationship it is like I am less capable of being attracted to anyone else. I just want to be with my one, and be their one, and do everything in the world to make them happy. I feel an internal pressure to please my partner, which dampens my attention to my other wants and needs. For me being in love is like a really bright light, a light so bright that it makes it hard to see anything else.
I’m not saying that love should be like that for everyone else, or even that it super-healthy for me, but that is how it has always been for me.
So, I discover kink and I have all this want and longing to submit, that has never been addressed. Hell, I hadn’t been in a relationship for years and was totally touch starved. So, even though I know very well that I can’t separate my all-consuming love from sexually charged intimacy and affection, I go for it.
And you know, play was great. I had more sexy fun in those first months than I had had in my whole life up to that point. I was able to communicate my boundaries, and change them as I got comfortable. I learned more about what I liked, and how to express when I wasn’t ready for something. It was good.
But love caught up with me, and it didn’t care that this was obviously not my true love. It didn’t care that I had to schedule my dates to fit in with the other people in her life. It didn’t care that she had a primary partner that she was going to marry. Or that I was never going to be everything for her (since she was a switch and I am such a bottom that it’s ridiculous.) Or we had vastly different value systems. Not just beliefs, but what we thought was important in life did not line up well at all. Love didn’t care.
We made it more official. I became her boyfriend, one of several partners. And she was for me, a bright light, blinding me to my other needs and concerns. I tried to have all of my needs met by her, and rather than demanding more time and attention than was fair, what I did was to try not to need any of the things that I wasn’t getting. And I tried to brush off the things that bothered me.
Most of my date nights were doing service and some play at the apartment that Tavi shared with her primary partner. And since it was his house, and his girlfriend, I tried to always be obliging. If I made dinner, I made enough for three. I tried not to be resentful, but there were times, when their relationship impacted mine and Tavi’s. And there were times when her other secondary relationships took time from what I had expected would be our time. And there were times when I felt like my secondary status was rubbed in my face.
And I really didn’t know what to do. This was my primary relationship, and I felt like I didn’t have any control over it, and not in a fun way, where I felt like control was safely in someone else’s hands. Out of control in the scary real life way, where everything is controlled by forces you can’t see or predict or protect yourself from.
Because of the way I love, and because of the emphasis I put on romantic relationships I got heavily invested in a doomed enterprise, and it really hurt me. Rather than feeling like a treasured possession, I felt unvalued, extraneous. When I didn’t meet her expectations on the things she valued, like getting into school and getting a better job, I felt worthless, a failure.
I had a hard time writing about this then, or even afterwards, or even now. I didn’t know what to say about it, other than, given my experience, it was a bad idea for people who aren’t poly to date people who are.
If we can’t change who we love, then maybe we can’t change how we love either. I think that if it had never gotten more serious than play partners then things might have worked out better. But I look at myself and see that for me, acting out submission, enacting service, it’s how I show love and I can not do one without it leading to the other.
Maybe it’s different for people who can.