I went to my first ever poly people’s event last night. When I first started looking for resources/support back at the beginning of my relationship with boo, I checked out some of the Meetup groups for non-monogamous/polyamorous/kinky folks in the greater DC and Baltimore areas, but all of their events seemed to be some combination of 1) full of middle-aged or retired people, 2) almost completely devoid of POC, 3) far away in un-metroable lands, and 4) really intense, like Interracial Hotel Play Parties. #NotHowIWannaStartOut. So I just lurked in these groups for a little over a year.
I don’t quite remember what prompted it at this point, but a few months back I posted on the discussion board for each group asking if there were any other young lurkers in these groups who wanted to try to get together sometime. I either never got any responses or didn’t know how to see them, so I pretty much forgot about it. I’ve sort of been taking a break from dating other people for the past while anyway, so forgetting about it wasn’t that hard. But then in December I got a message on Meetup from a 24 year old married black guy who was planning to put such an event together and wanted to let me know. I wasn’t able to make it to their first event, and the second was the night of my birthday party, but last night I had a gap between the end of the workday and the beginning of my coworker’s party, and decided to fill it with this happy hour.
I was so nervous on my way over. I’d never met a self-identified poly person other than boo in real life, really, except I guess for that white girl I went out with once this summer. I had no idea what interacting with a whole group of them would be like. I know it was targeted towards people in the 21-35 age group, but would they all be like, seasoned poly folk who each have like 5 partners and live in group families? Would I, in my in-a-non-monogamous-relationship-but-definitely-not-naturally-inclined-to-loving-multiple-people-at-once existence, be an outcast? Would I feel welcome? Would they judge me for struggling with the things I struggle with? Would I even feel comfortable talking about my shit with these strangers?
Everyone I met did seem to have more experience than me, though I’ve heard there were poly-curious people coming who didn’t get there before I had to leave. But they were all pretty inviting. The group is cross-advertised between Meetup and FetLife, apparently, so there were a lot of people who are into the kink community and also poly there. Those conversations definitely had me feeling out of my depth, but people were cool about that. I spent most of the night in conversations with this one guy, who has been non-monogamous since I was possibly in middle school, haha, but was cool for a guy who is a decade older than me. He was into the whole living as openly and authentically as possible thing, and came to poly through that, so we connected over that life motto even if living my truth hasn’t led me to the same self-discovery.
I don’t know how to express how good it feels to be able to talk normally about this shit. Like, I have amazing friends who will listen to me and give advice and brainstorm, but none of them get it like people who have dealt with the same or similar problems get it. It was refreshing to be able to openly talk about the long-distance relationship my boyfriend is in and how it feels to not know her and how being poly complicates the already complicated conversations around trying to plan the future of one’s relationship(s), and to be able to talk about these things to fresh new people. I have a handful of people who I am very close to in my actual life who I can talk about these things with at any time, yeah, but the resonance is different with people who have been there, and being able to talk about it with COMPLETE STRANGERS is the fucking coolest.
It was sort of like the Tumblrs I lurk on had come to life. There were conversations about books I own and have read about being poly, and the poly podcast I tried to listen to (I just can’t with podcasts), and casual references to one’s girlfriend’s husband. I had already found poly representation, but this upped the game into poly normalization, and that was a cool experience in and of itself.
I heard a lot of people’s nutshell versions of their personal poly history, and no one else seemed to have sprung full-formed into multiple romantic relationships from nothing like the situation we were in prompted me to; rather there were a lot of “oh well me and my primary partner/ex used to swing and that just wasn’t working for me, so…” types of stories, with people coming into it gradually and through discovering its appeal on a personal basis first. I think that if me dating other people is going to be a thing again in the future, it is more likely to come out of involvement with a group like this than through OkCupid/Tindering or however people meet people offline. It would require less explanation, and less expectation that someone will throw themselves through the wringer like I have/continue to do in the process of coming to terms with everything that comes along with doing non-monogamy right. It just seems like it would be easier. But I’m still really unsure that dating other people is going to be a thing. It was interesting hearing other folks at this event talk about how the first time they came to an event like this, it was like “they’d found their people,” and definitely not feeling that way myself.
Towards the end of my long one-on-one conversation with the guy I talked to most, he was talking about how much one learns about oneself on any journey through non-monogamy, and how it’s a hard journey and no one who has really been through it will ever say any different. He wished me luck as I make my way through this journey, and hoped that I find whatever it is that I want. I told him that I think that in large part, I already have. There are a lot of things I’m still figuring out, but the I-want-to-be-with-him-for-as-long-as-possible part, I understand.
Love is a powerful thing. It can bring us into situations we never dreamed of, and teach us things about ourselves that we didn’t know we didn’t know. Trying to build your life around who and what you love is terrifying. It involves an incredible amount of risk, and that only magnifies when your love extends to multiple relationships. There are poly people who say that mono-poly relationships end horribly. There are mono people who tell me I should hedge my bets. To them, and to the voice in my head that sometimes questions things, I say “When is love not a risk? Life is a risk.” To them, I say what I said to boo a few weeks ago in the email that started the cohabitation conversation: I think I’ve been all in on us for a while, about investing as much as I can in us growing together and being awesome for as long as we work.
I started reading Mia McKenzie’s Black Girl Dangerous book on the bus on the way home from seeing The Vagina Monologues with a homegirl of mine tonight, and was struck by her referencing bell hooks’s All About Love as an opening to one of her essays.
Love is challenging in all its forms. Familial love, love in friendship, love in romance. Love in our relationships with ourselves. There are all sorts of definitions for love, all sorts of ideas about what love is. In All About Love, bell hooks talks about love “as the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” I like that definition, it sounds right. And simple enough in the way a definition of love ought to be simple.
Only it isn’t simple at all. Because in order to extend one’s self for anyone’s spiritual growth, including one’s own, one has to first be capable of extending one’s self, and then be willing to choose to do so. And extending one’s self, for the purpose of anything, let alone love, is really fucking scary.
That book follows me. It lives in me. It makes me feel like the path I am on is a right one, albeit atypical and at times difficult. Self-extension is difficult. It takes skill and consistency of choice. But I think love is a glorious reason to stretch yourself out and see what you find. So that continues to be the plan.