Joanna C. Valente is a ghost who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and Sexting Ghosts (Unknown Press, 2018). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017), and received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared in Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, Them, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, and elsewhere.Read More
BY GHIA VITALE
This piece is part of the Relationship Issue. Read more here.
As someone who has been polyamorous for seven out of the 11 years I’ve been with my partner, I can say with utmost certainty that polyamory is not an experiment for me.
It is the path in life my heart wandered down and never turned back. And suddenly, the mainstream dating world knows about polyamory. Now that I can simply check off the “polyamorous” box in an OkCupid profile, I am still hesitant to dip my toe into the icy waters of online dating.
One of their most recent additions is a feature that allows you to link your account to a partner’s account in order to let users know whom you’re currently dating on the site. It’s actually no better than how Facebook only lets you be in one relationship. In other words, to Hell with the rest of your lovers if you’re poly because according to these websites, only one of them is worth mentioning. The threesome requests were frequent enough when I confessed that I was bisexual in my profile. I’m worried that no matter how much I stress that I’m not looking for flings, that’s all others seem to want me for. That’s how it went in the past, anyway.
One of my biggest hang-ups about poly dating is the same issue other experienced poly people struggle with: the risk of becoming collateral damage in someone else’s quest for self-discovery, novelty, freedom, and most importantly, love. A recent spike in popularity has saturated the poly community with widespread interest. That means the poly-curious population is increasing. While that might mean there’s more to love, it also means there’s more people there to mess it up. Many newbies embark upon their poly journey with pure intentions; others mistake our permanent lifestyle for whatever they wish would fulfill their temporary and misguided desires. How do I know their desires are misguided? I know this because I’ve been directly implicated in these personal quests for self-fulfillment that end in nothing except breakups.
I let everyone know that polyamory is the only way I roll. While people are more than happy to enjoy my company as a fling, the idea of having multiple significant others that are actually significant is beyond most people’s comprehension and it seeps through their behavior. Once I let them know there’s zero chance of a monogamous future happening (or even a monogamish one), the tone of our interaction change drastically. All of the sudden, our relationship is no longer headed in any kind of committal direction and I lose my viability as a “serious” partner whom they envision a future with. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not pressing for commitment before it’s appropriate. I’m all about free love and I believe each relationship being a unique expression of love. But even though we’ll both claim we want poly relationships, I’m the only person who means it. What they actually mean is that they want to indulge in multiple relationships at once without strings attached. That’s fine, but that’s not polyamory.
It’s always different variations of the same scenario: I meet someone who claims to be poly-curious, poly-friendly, or “open to being with a poly partner.” Then they realize they’re not as poly as they thought they were, that they just wanted to date around and explore before meeting a monogamous partner. Whether or not I consented to this involvement never mattered, so I’ve learned how to recognize the unique smell of this trainwreck smoke so I don’t have to stand the heat later on. I understand that these people usually mess up because they don’t know better. As the person who’s actually poly, I basically have to be the person who knows better. It just sucks to become seriously invested in someone because they seemed to say the right things at the right times and gave you the impression that polyamory was a long-term consideration for them. It no longer felt like a carpet being pulled from beneath me once I developed a healthy sense of paranoia about it. Even educating these people about poly doesn’t seem to make them go back into the hookup culture that better suits their yearnings.
Polyamory is about maintaining multiple relationships, not just the freedom to have as many flings. Too many people enter polyamory with the “playing the field” mindset. They’re more than happy to practice polyamory, but never actually be polyamorous. If they were actually living polyamory as opposed to practicing it, they would see polyamory as a part of their future rather than a quick fix. That’s just the problem: They don’t see polyamory as a part of their future. They only see polyamory as a situational means to their temporary ends. Yes, polyamory absolves you from having to choose 1 person over another, but there’s so much more to it than that. Polyamory is far more about building and maintaining connections than it is about driveby romances and hooking up.
As a polyamorous person, I want more than a good time. I want love.
Ghia Vitale is a writer from Long Island. She graduated from Purchase College with a BA in literature as well as minors in psychology and sociology. She has written for Ravishly and Quail Bell Magazine.