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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Am I POLY, or just HORNY?

You run a fantastic blog! Thanks for allowing us to ask these sensitive questions in safety and openness. :)

I read your excellent post on Open Relationships vs. Polyamory and, after examining my feelings and situation, I'm still uncertain as to where I fall.

I've been happily married for over two years. My wife is a delightful, open-minded and intelligent young woman who's made no qualms about identifying as bisexual with strongly lesbian tendencies. While I tend to identify as straight as I feel no physical attraction to men - there are some very handsome guys out there, sure, but I don't feel anywhere near as compelled by them as I am by women - I do feel strong attractions to women who aren't my wife. I used to chalk this up to either animal instinct or (in a few cases) old emotional attachments, but as time has gone on I've felt such things towards women I've had no past history with.

The other thing that belies the "it's just horniness" argument I keep trying to use on myself is that these ladies to whom I'm attracted invoke emotional reactions as well as sexual. Not the deep and abiding love I have for my wife, mind you, but the sort of bonds I forge with close friends. I care about them, delight in their triumphs and want to comfort them in their sorrow, make myself available to them and wish them every measure of happiness. In short: I'm not just looking for fuckbuddies.

I come from a very Christian upbringing. I still hold onto the barest of tenets of that faith - loving God, loving my neighbor and testing everything so I can hold on to what's good - so for a long time I've considered such impulses and feelings to be wrong. The more I embrace them, however, the more at peace I feel. I feel more comfortable in my own skin knowing that I make women happy, even if they're women who aren't my wife. I think this might be pointing me in a direction I've never considered. I may, in fact, be poly.

I feel strongly about freedom, about the rights of the LGBT community and how, especially in a country founded on liberty and a lack of persecution (in theory), people should be free to love, live and interact as they see fit as long as nobody's getting hurt. But I don't know exactly how to deal with this other than just going with my feelings. Have other polys had experiences like this, sort of a 'coming out of the closet' moment? Am I poly? Or am I just putting emotions behind normal straight horniness and overthinking the situation? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Sincerely yours,
Confused And Restless

Dear CAR (No relation to K.I.T.T., right?):

Here's an interesting question for you in response to your question for us. Is our sexual orientation determined by our actions, or our feelings? If someone is born with a preference for homosexual eroticism, but never acts on it, are they "gay"? Conversely, could a straight person choose to have a homosexual experience, and still be "straight"?

If you believe that "being poly" means acting on your feelings, then you might not be, if you haven't done so. That might make you repressed, and possibly affect you psychologically
or manifest in other ways, but it doesn't make you polyamorous.

If however you believe that being poly means having emotionally-charged feelings for multiple people, then - yep, you're poly, regardless of how you might attempt to rationalize those feelings away. If you FEEL what you describe, you've proven that
you're capable of feeling that way. Of course, actually living a poly lifestyle and being in a poly relationship involves consistent honesty, openness, and communication between you and your partner/s - who knows whether or not you are or will in the future achieve that type of relationship? But the answer you're looking for within yourself, is yes.

And you're not alone. I think it's clear most humans are *born* poly. Most of us (here in the United States, at least) are socialized away from it from a young age by external ideals of what is expected of us regarding monogamous romantic relationships, and only some of us are able to re/connect with our natural ability to develop and maintain multiple relationships with lovers as well as nonromantic friends and family. It would be completely illogical to suggest that we have the innate ability to care deeply for many people in our lives, but somehow lose that ability when sex or romance is involved. It makes much more sense to look at polyamory as an inherent capacity, a plus to be nurtured rather than a negative to be repressed, without which we are in fact LIMITED to caring for one person at a time, not from choice but because we have no other options available to us. Many people see a poly mindset as an enlightened or enhanced one, which allows many more options than those who are biologically limited to monogamy. It's like having a Swiss Army knife at your disposal rather than a straight blade. (Make your own "gay blade" joke here, if you like.)

Your thoughts as you describe them show you have the ability to develop and maintain multiple emotional relationships with different women, but you are also apparently concerned with what that might mean, for your intellect or for your faith. I think you already know which of those is likely to win in a fight over which "feels" right, but I personally don't believe the two can't healthily coexist. All I can tell you is you may still CHOOSE a monogamous path of action if you want to do so, but the fact you are feeling the way you describe tells me you are what you consider "poly". It remains now to be seen how and whether you act on it. Personally, I always recommend total honesty and communication with your loved ones regarding your feelings; it luckily sounds like you have a partner who would be supportive.

Michelle?

It certainly sounds like your wife would be receptive to the topic of polyamory since she's bisexual and presumably can understand how someone can find love in different people, even if she doesn't actually practice polyamory. And I applaud you for your impulse to spread happiness outside your marriage - the world needs more of that, always.

I was in a situation similar to yours in 2007. I was in a relationship with someone who was married, and we explored a triad together, which later turned into a "V." I chafed at being in this position until I discovered the poly community in New York and came out as poly in January 2008. That was when I got the vocabulary and the awareness that I was in a poly situation but still following a monogamous mindset; a dichotomy that was the source of my discomfort. I realized that in order to be happy, I had to align my beliefs with my reality as much as possible.

As Leon says, this is all about communication. Since you wrote to us, I figure you are looking for advice, so I suggest that the first thing you do is talk to your wife and find out her feelings about the possibility of opening your marriage. Your marriage is an agreement between the two of you, and it shouldn't be altered without mutual consent. So if you think about your marriage as an agreement, what exactly did you agree to? Sexual fidelity? Emotional exclusivity? Companionship? Eternal friendship? Ask yourself what your marriage means to you first and then ask her.

Then it's time to negotiate. Talk gently about what you want in your heart, for yourself and for her. Do either or both of you feel constrained by your marriage agreement? Maybe you're just looking for explicit permission to form close relationships with other women, and maybe she wants the same thing! Maybe it involves sex; maybe it doesn't. Start by figuring out what is the core of your existing relationship - what must be preserved to make you both feel safe and secure. What is the most important thing that you give one another? Whatever that is, make sure to protect it.

Beyond that, create a safe space for yourselves to talk about your hopes, dreams and fears. Establish up-front that nothing will happen without explicit agreement so you can talk freely without misunderstanding your intentions. Think about how you will feel if your wife starts dating a woman or another man - what would you need from her to keep your marriage strong? Make new agreements as you go, knowing that they can be renegotiated in the future so you can take things in small steps. For example, if you're both not ready to be poly, make an agreement to revisit the idea in six months, or a year. Ultimately, your marriage will be stronger if you both feel comfortable talking freely about things that maybe previously you thought were assumed. This is one way in which poly techniques can be useful for monogamous people.

All that said, as Leon pointed out, you can choose to follow a monogamous path after you've had this talk - maybe that will turn out to be the best option for both of you. But at least you will know that you made a CHOICE, rather than just assumptions or accepting the status quo.

If the two of you decide to explore poiyamory
together, I strongly encourage you to seek out resources to help your find your way, either from several books available, your local polyamory group chapter, or come to an Open Love NY event if you can travel. Every relationship is unique, but it's always good to see others' mistakes so you can avoid obvious pitfalls. Getting support for a lifestyle that is not always accepted by family and the larger community also increases your chances for success.