Throughout the book there are brief profiles of some of my interview subjects. Here’s one:
Fiona and Sam
“We work at continuously figuring out what is good for the relationship.”
Fiona is a 36 year old special education teacher and university instructor. Sam is a 32 year old student studying social work and education. They have been together in a polyamorous relationship for 5 years and live in Brooklyn, New York.
What are the rules, boundaries, and limits in your relationship?
Fiona: I think what has been successful for us is to conceptualize things differently. We don’t “negotiate” or focus on limits or boundaries per say. That is not to say anything goes! Rather, we work to continuously create our relationship and how we relate to others. This is something we have gotten a lot of help with, particularly from our therapist. We work at continuously figuring out what is good for the relationship. So, rather then set it up as my needs vs. yours, my desires vs. yours, my boundaries vs. yours, we try to decide what the relationship can handle at any given time. For example, we have some working guidelines, like if you are out at a bar or party, you can make out or fool around with other people. But, if we have a fight when one person is leaving the house, or one person is in a bad way for whatever reason then it is not a rule, but it is at this point the culture of our relationship for the person who is going out to decide it is probably not a good night to hook up at the bar.
How do you deal with negative feelings like jealousy, possessiveness, insecurity, anger, resentment, etc.?
Fiona: Sometimes I just talk to a friend, change the channel of my mind, or use some other tactic to remind myself that it is no big deal and that I have a million other more important things to worry about. Like the environment or whether or not I remembered to pay my bills this month. Other times I take anger and upset and frustration to be a sign that things are not working for me, that I don’t like how I am being treated or what we have agreed to. Then, I get help by talking to other people and then talking to Sam.
Sam: I have been amazed at how much less jealous and possessive I have felt within this relationship than in the past. Somehow having it out there that of course we are both attracted to other people has been a huge relief—and meant that I trust it a lot more when Fiona says she wants to be with me…because I know she is being honest, and can have those other attractions and experiences as the same time. An exception would be our relationship with Brooke, when I really wasn’t able or willing to put my relationship with Fiona ahead of my immediate, selfish wants…That was a very painful time. All those feelings came into play during this time…and I don’t think any of us dealt with them very lovingly or effectively, perhaps most especially me.
Tell me more about the relationship with Brooke.
Fiona: Sam and I had a joint girlfriend for 6 months.
Sam: My connection with Brooke was really intense. She and I got together first and were involved to a certain degree separately from Fiona. Then we stopped that because…our connection wasn’t okay for Fiona’s and my relationship, it wasn’t working. Then, Brooke and Fiona went out one night and kissed…it was really exciting. These two very intense relationships. They had a connection that was sometimes really hot and awesome and fun, but there were also lots of ways that they didn’t completely mesh.
Fiona: It was beautiful at moments. Fun. Hot. Sex. Magical. Oh-so-intimate. At times it was exactly why I wanted to be poly. I saw up close and personal the intense and wonderful connection between Brooke and Sam. The emotion in our threesome and in our respective twosomes ran really, really high—from the extremely close, connected, and wonderful to the crazed, angry, and upset. I was into the ideal of a threesome and into the ideal of supporting Sam to pursue this relationship with someone he had a really deep connection with. But, day-to-day, it turned out I wanted to have just…[a] Sam and I twosome. I think I made a big mistake in that I underestimated how important our shared home, shared evenings, shared time, just the two of us was. So time and again when Brooke said, “Hey, I am in the neighborhood, can I come over?” I said yes, but for me it ended up being too much, too fast and ultimately not what I wanted or could handle—even though I adored her and believed in the idea of it all so strongly.
Sam: We were trying to do something challenging—really sustain a threesome relationship—and I think none of us were quite sure what we really wanted from it or from each other. We really didn’t have the support we needed to figure it out. Even friends of ours who were into the idea of being “poly” couldn’t really handle or didn’t know what to make of what the three of us were doing. I was so aware that we were really making things up each moment…having to create the script for how we wanted to be together instead of relying on society’s script, even when things were going well…This is one of the things I love about being poly—that it challenges me to be creative and to live as authentically as possible, but it is incredibly difficult, especially when emotions run high.
Fiona: So, it just became a mess. We were all really awful to one another. We said a lot of mean things and just struggled for months. Ultimately, Brooke ended it and one of my most intimate evenings with her was when she told me she realized she needed to move on, that she wanted a partner and kids, and being with us was not a move towards that. It was so hard for me to let go. I wanted her in our lives. I held out a fantasy that she would move in with us. But, I think it just wasn’t right for any of us, despite our love and attraction.
Looking back on it now, what did you learn from it?
Sam: I was really so excited about the idea of [the relationship] that I really wasn’t willing to accept the reality. There were times and ways that it worked really beautifully. The times and ways that it wasn’t working…I really didn’t want to look at them. One lesson I learned was to be much more cautious about checking in about what we want out of it. [Now] I feel much more committed to working and creatively building my relationship with Fiona and to have whatever else happens to be a part of that, whether I do it separately or she does it separately or we do it together.
Fiona: I was able to realize how important my relationship with Sam was and that I really didn’t want to completely share it with a third person. At the time, I think I wasn’t aware enough of what I wanted in my life, and I didn’t appreciate what we had enough. I was trying to be the party girl and go with the flow. Then I would have these fits where I would become a raging lunatic about random things, but I feel like they weren’t about the right things. One thing I have learned is to be continually assessing my life and the relationships I have created. Do I like them? Am I happy? Is this working? Is it what I want? To be in the process of my life with people and deciding together what makes sense.
For you, what is the most fundamental element of creating and sustaining a positive poly relationship?
Fiona: It would be this thing we learned from our therapist of “being on the side of the relationship.” She has asked us, in different ways over time, who is going to be on the side of the relationship? After much hard work, we have adopted that. I think we are both now less concerned with “getting” (as in getting what we each need) and more focused on what can our relationship handle and what would be good or growthful for our relationship.
Sam: I have been, within relationships over the years, both cheated on and a cheat, both incredibly jealous/possessive and desperately restless for new hook ups. Something about polyamory, at least in the way that Fiona and I do it together, has supported me to more fully embrace Fiona and our relationship and, at the same time, more fully trust, let go, take risks, make new connections…Fiona and I have a strong, loving, sexual and emotional connection that continues to grow deeper and more exciting through the years…and part of that is supporting each other to continue to be attracted to and connect with other people, have new experiences, find new passions. Polyamory feels more honest to me. I’m not saying it’s right for everyone, or the “best” way to be in a relationship. For me though, it does feel best.