On Egalitarian Polyamory
I began my journey to polyamory much the same as many newbies do. I was in a failing relationship and trying anything possible to keep it afloat. I suggested an “open” relationship to my then boyfriend. He agreed. And, in the spirit of competition, I began immediately looking for dates. I was terrified he would find someone before me, thereby somehow invalidating me. I made him promise again and again that I would always “come first.” I didn’t have the terminology back then, but what I was essentially expecting was a hierarchy where I was the primary. Number one. Always.
Why did I have these expectations? Why was I, simply by nature of having met him first, entitled to more than any future partner he may meet? The short answer is simply: fear and insecurity. I did end up “winning” the dating competition. I quickly found a second partner. We hit it off well, but I maintained that this second partner couldn’t possibly be long term. Because he wasn’t my “number one.” We dated for about a year and a half. We fell in love. I loved and was loved by two men simultaneously, with both of their knowledge and consent. And it was wonderful. And I quickly realized that human emotions don’t obey ordinals. Love is love, regardless of when or where or how you find it.
Ultimately, my original partner desired to go back to monogamy (a move also very clearly rooted in insecurity). And, because of my mononormative programming and desire to please him, I agreed. I parted ways with my second partner in a mostly amicable way. Shortly after that, my original partner cheated on me. Back to square one, right?
After a period of healing, I began to date again. I was very much of the mind that I wasn’t looking for anything serious or long term. I met a married man who identified as polyamorous and thought to myself “perfect! A nice, casual relationship.” It was anything but. We fell in love hard and fast. We experienced that intoxicating New Relationship Energy that so many non-monogamous people fear and love. I was a “game changer” for him in many ways. The rules he and his spouse had began to melt away when they started to restrict our relationship’s natural growth. More and more I realized that the old adage of “the best laid plans” was ever more apparent.
I came to a more solid place of understanding multiple loving relationships. And, in turn, my approach to them shifted. I realized that you don’t rank the people you love. You just love them. You try to meet their needs as best you can. Placing one relationship (whether platonic, romantic, or familial) above another is rooted in what I would describe as an emotional feudal system. It’s archaic and counterproductive. Time, love, and energy should be distributed based on need, not tenure. This idea, to me, is the root of Egalitarian Polyamory.
Does practicing egalitarian polyamory mean every relationship is equal in time and energy always? Of course not. The important thing is equity, not equality. Are everyone’s needs being met? Does everyone have the same opportunities and potential to evolve and grow together? Those are the important questions. It’s not a matter of “How can a partner of 2 months be equal to a spouse of 10 years?” The relationships are, by their very nature different. But different doesn’t mean better or worse (or more or less important). So long as both relationships are respected and allowed to developed without restriction, that’s what matters.
These days I date quite a bit. I’m always sure to explain to potential partners who wish to practice egalitarian polyamory with me that they are just as valid to me as my existing partners. I make sure to let them know that I will not let my relationship with my other partners come at the expense of ours. I’m not perfect, by any means. But I strive to ensure that everyone I am involved with feels like an important and vital part of my life. A brand new person may not get the same amount of my time as a more established partner, but they are not placed in a box from which there is no escape. All of my relationships are given the space and time to grow organically, unhindered by the rigidity of my past hierarchical roles and rules.