My path to being polyamorous started before I knew it had. If I am honest with myself and all of my past relationships and lovers, polyamory is something I always needed yet never had a term for, throughout my entire dating history. In my young adulthood I experimented with open relationship dynamics, but neither my boyfriend nor I had the key ingredients it took to make the situation remotely healthy. Beyond having a lack of good communication skills, we didn’t know our personal boundaries, or even what we hoped to gain beyond freedom from monogamy. Part of that discovery does come with experimentation, but we barely even had trust, as we both had a past riddled with cheating and pain with other people. Needless to say, that unhealthy situation did not last long, or end well.
Fast forward a few years. My “official” introduction to the term and lifestyle of polyamory was rude, to say the least, and it completely deterred me from making it a serious consideration for a few years afterward. In my early twenties, I was approached by a deteriorating couple looking to fix their relationship. Of course, they didn’t use those words, but delving deeper into their situation made me see the brutal reality. I have always been an experimental person with, what I’d like to consider, a continually opening mind, so I made a light consideration to explore the option.
I visited with the couple, who lived a few hours away at the time, to get to know them and their way of life. I felt that because of the distance, it was something that I could easily let go of if I decided it wasn’t right. There were a lot of questions, mostly about jealousy at first. Did they even feel jealousy? How did sex work? Wait, you both want to be in a relationship with me—what? Is all polyamory like that? Oh, but you’re flexible on that, like maybe I’d only date the guy?
None of these questions were bad beginner questions to have answers to, but certainly not the right questions. In fact, I was the only one asking questions, and for a couple supposedly experienced in this world, they certainly weren’t asking me any questions about my personal boundaries (not that I would have had good answers at the time). Ultimately, I decided the situation was chaotic and elected to opt out. My decision did not go over well with the male in the couple, and resulted in a persistent, and terrifying obsession that would last the entire length of the next relationship I would begin. Another year later, the relationship I began after meeting that couple had hit a point of extreme dysfunction, which was a trend of my serious relationships.
I found myself at a very low point in my life, very depressed and vulnerable. During a Heathen spiritual practice known as Oracular Seidr, I spoke with the goddess Freyja, a Scandinavian deity of sexuality, passion, and war. I work with her regularly as my Matron Deity, as I always felt she gave me strength. She very bluntly told me I did not love myself and that I needed to learn how. This is something I knew, and had struggled with my entire life. I had always put myself second in my never-ending string of serial monogamy. My heart had an incredible capacity to love a significant other, and close friends, more than I could dream of loving myself.
And yet another year later, I found myself torn between my unhealthy relationship, and a newer, unexpected, long-distance relationship. Both fragile situations, yet extremely serious and passionate in different ways. They both fed and tortured my soul. I could not bring myself to decide between the two, bringing all of us continual heartache. All three of us identified as monogamous, and all of us also had a dangerous combination of jealous-yet-patient. I was in bad shape with constant anxiety over this. I also feared the inevitable: I would not only have to mourn losing one of them, I would also have to mourn a potential future. All of this came up in a Rune reading, where the person reading my fortune asked me if I had ever considered polyamory. HA! Not with these two. In fact, not ever again. Little did I know, fate had more than two options for me.
These situations came to pass, and the serially monogamous person that I was, I jumped into yet another relationship face first. This guy was the king of mental manipulation. He was the complete package: dashing older man, great sense of style, well organized, responsible, a master of gas-lighting, avoidant attachment style to compliment my anxiously abused psyche- OH! and also into BDSM. Such a delicious combination of pure garbage. Having traded one Hell for another, it didn’t take me more than a few months to see how degraded I was becoming in such a short amount of time. This time, I refused to leave empty handed. The BDSM part was a priceless gift, as was my prompted discovery of attachment styles. Freyja’s wise words of telling me that I needed to learn to love myself finally came in the form of seeds that could actually be planted.
BDSM taught me about communication. Not just to negotiate for a kinky time, but to really ask myself what my preferences and boundaries in life are in general. To be able to clearly articulate my likes, wants, and needs was empowering. After that relationship, I could not only tell another human being about these new found boundaries in the beginning of a situation, but I could also identify when any kind of boundaries had been crossed and make my discomfort known. Whether it was a physical, emotional/psychological, or any other type of boundary- my mouth had words!
Learning about attachment style theory also did leaps and bounds. I learned about the type of people that might easily trigger me, as an anxious attachment style. For example, someone who is avoidant may deal with conflict resolution by not dealing with the conflict at all. Running away or ignoring a problem is very triggering for me, and causes me to feel like I need to try even harder to fix the problem. An avoidant person may not give me the type of attention I need and deserve, and therefore leave me wondering if I am cared about, which could easily have me falling into a panic attack or depression.
I learned that a secure attachment style, or another anxious person would fit my needs best (please also note that there is an entire scale that attachment theory falls on, where people may fall slightly to the right or left of avoidant, secure, and anxious, or be a combination of things). I also learned that the way I respond to things don’t need as much justification and apologies as I thought they did, and that there are actually very good reasons that I handle situations the way that I do, even when I appear to be overreacting. Understanding attachment theory also allows me to rationalize my own feelings, and put other people’s feelings into perspective.
I started really knowing self-love. I practiced reciting my findings to my friends and family, really just to get a better way of life into my own thick skull. On top of that I started studying abuse, vulnerability, feminism, constructive VS. destructive jealousy, sexism, shame, and many other things to un-brainwash what society and past relationships had ingrained into me as acceptable and/or tolerable (and trust me- a lot of bad things can seem acceptable and tolerable when you come from a worse situation). All of this while seeing a really great therapist who greatly encouraged my discoveries and newfound knowledge (she also gave me my copy of The Ethical Slut).
My study lead to an actual period of time where I was single for longer than three minutes before my next relationship. It was a few months, but for me, that was a big improvement. In my next relationship we got to know each other, and made a decision after 6 months to try out polyamory. I was much more mentally equipped to take on new discoveries at that point. I continue learning about my boundaries with my partner (YES- still together after two years). We learned a lot of hard lessons together, but communication has allowed us to fully work through them with a higher understanding of our needs and boundaries.
Eventually falling into a part-time/secondary style relationship with that partner, I began seeking another partner that could fulfill more of a “primary” role. I took my time scoping dating websites, on which I had a detailed profile. I knew what I was looking for, and it was oddly, yet perfectly specific. I looked online because I felt like my chances of just running into another polyamorous person in passing wasn’t too likely, and I don’t care to meet people at clubs or bars. I like to know I have enough in common before taking my time. My prescreen questions consisted of things like:
Have you ever been in a polyamorous relationship before?
Are you in any relationships currently?
Are you comfortable that I am currently in a part-time relationship?
Each first date also came with a list of questions:
What kind of relationship is ideal for you at this point in your life?
How do you handle conflict resolution?
Do you know what kind of situations tend to trigger a jealousy response for you?
How did your last relationship end?
How would you describe your self-esteem?
I obviously don’t consider myself a shy person, which may now be obvious. But I chose my questions not only to measure compatibility of interests, but also to help me assess attachment style, and measure the potential for abuse. Most people I met did not have favorable answers in all categories, and I wasn’t taking on anyone I may be tempted to consider a project (because people are not projects, they are human beings with feelings- feelings that may not necessarily be compatible with my needs).
It took a while, and about 20-30 really terrible first and second dates, and a couple of flings before finding what I would deem soulmate material. A year after meeting my beautiful soulmate, I wake up each day excited to love with my full heart in a way that honors my needs as well. Overall, I would consider my road to polyamory and self-love a successful and indivisible path. Now the three of us walk this path together, all living under one roof. We have even decided to have a baby and forge a family together. I have never felt more fulfillment in life, or satisfaction in my own choices than I do right now.
And still, my heart has an endless capacity to love and create meaningful, romantic bonds of many degrees, which my partners support, appreciate, and encourage. There are still adventures my heart yearns to explore, and that is a part of me I hope always stays vibrant and alive.
About Sophia Sheree Martinez: With a thirst for justice, I am committed to exploring conversations no one wants to have in order to make the world a slightly-more-than-tolerable place to exist. I consider myself an actively outspoken Heathen Hedgewitch, a mixture of which tends to have otherworldly side-effects. I enjoy long walks in my cavernous dream realm, from which I often wake suddenly with mixed emotions about the reality of society. Lastly, and I hope not least, I am a member of Golden Gate Kindred in the Bay Area, and an administrator for Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR).