Paradoxical Polyamory


[The New Masculine] • Loving a promiscuous woman will make a man of you.

I've learned a lot from sex, but I think I may have learned more from the desperate, lonely nights spent wrestling with jealousy while my lover is somewhere else, riding another man's body to orgasm, than I have from my own ecstatic exploration. Given the inarguable sexual ramifications of the global shift now taking place from patriarchal patterns of dominance and control to matriarchal models of feeling and mastery, it just might be the case that for many men, being tortured toward manhood by our own cuckolding is the best medicine available.

I have always been attracted to sexually powerful women. Girlfriends in high school "cheated" on me. Later, as a young adult I was involved with several women who weren't satisfied to confine their sexploits to my boyish hands, and yet they demanded fidelity of me. These relationships drove me crazy. By the time I was 22 I was burned out on jealousy and I decided to put an end to cheating by changing the rules. I would no longer commit myself to relationships that had, at their core, rejected sexuality by equating sexual freedom with infidelity. I chose to believe it possible to be true and honest at the same time. In my heart I became a polyamorist.

Within a year I was in an open marriage, and stayed that way for eleven years. During the marriage we both had many different lovers. We were young and adventurous. I was in a traveling rock and roll band and she was exploring sexually revolutionary Olympia, Washington in the wake of the riot-grrrl explosion of the 1990's. Our alternative marriage blueprint, designed mostly by me, seemed genius at the time. She wanted to know everything about my sexual exploits and I wanted to know nothing of hers. It seemed fair, and it was blissful ignorance for a decade, but she had to hide so much of herself that when she eventually left me it must have been a huge relief for her to be able to not have to pretend to be my good wife and soulmate some of the time and herself the rest of the time.

In the year before the marriage ended, while I was living in LA with Andy Dick and Andy Shmushkin, I was engaged in a love affair with an amazing woman. A singer in a cool pop band and the editor of a popular porn magazine. A very smart and sexy woman about 8 years older than me, who would never call herself a sexual revolutionary, but she is one. During our seasons as a couple she would brazenly tell me about the other men that she was having sex with. I remember how once she had sex with some guy at her birthday party and then came to bed with me, and told me about it the next morning over coffee. I could have felt jealous, or repulsed, but I didn't. Her total lack of guilt about it gave my jealousy no traction. She didn't owe me any sexual shame; I was married and she was enjoying me and fucking other people too. Her sexual freedom had the effect of setting me free in a new way. I try and remember that sensation when jealousy grabs for me now, and believe me, it does.

Polyamory is like advanced physics but most people approach it with a kindergarten mentality. It requires a constant and subtle balance of opposing impulses. I still think the perfect open relationship is probably mostly monogamous. I mean, who has the energy to really satisfy one woman, let alone many? Mark Twain once wrote something about how men are like candles and women like candlesticks. A candlestick can accommodate an infinite number of candles while the candles burn but once. Twain was on to something. Of course, the possibility of endless sexual adventures is fun to entertain, but my vision of a sustainable open relationship has less to do with the amount of freedom I am afforded than it does with how much freedom I can support and even celebrate my partner experiencing. What the Tantrists might call "holding space for another's embodied enlightenment."

I've been in my current relationship for about three years. My partner is a sex and intimacy coach who works mostly with men. Her practice includes touch as well as counseling. Her work falls somewhere between that of a therapist, a masseuse, a spiritual guide and a classic courtesan. For some reason this doesn't bother me. She is smart and safe about it and the work is revolutionary. It inspires me. I see the art in it. The men she helps are men like me, only with more money to spend on spiritual health and orgasmic integration, i.e. holy handjobs.

Conversely, since we've been together she has had several other lovers, as opposed to clients, and each of these relationships, dalliances or interludes has caused me some degree of emotional discomfort. That's an understatement. At times it has seemed almost unbearable. She generally goes for older, more powerful, wealthier, and/or stronger men than me, which definitely flips my switch. I get insecure. I get crazy. Even for someone who has been practicing polyamory for almost 15 years, these challenges to my sexual turf have been incredibly difficult. And yet, my lover's cool determination and commitment to sexual healing, globally and between the two of us, has inspired me to become more conscious, more present and more energetically sensitive. I have to get enlightened just to keep up with her, and interestingly, one of the most rewarding aspects of this relationship has been having to meet and find honor with the men she has chosen to share herself with.

When I meet a man who I am going to be sharing my lover with my goal is to establish honor. I try and learn what his honor is and inspire him to learn my honor. When we understand each other we can actually look out for each other when she starts to drift, as she is prone to do on occasion, toward lunacy. So we establish honor by learning each other's codes of conduct. Then we can communicate. Honor is a slippery fish until you get what it is for the other person, then it makes all the sense in the world. For one guy, borrowing his car to run an errand and not returning it for the entire weekend wouldn't be a big deal. To another man, just changing the settings on the passenger seat might be taking too much liberty. And that's just talking about cars. Our territorial relationship to woman is obviously more complex and deeply rooted. The fight or flight impulse is strong when meeting an intimate that you did not choose. And yet, I have found that when the discussion turns to honor something rather miraculous happens; otherwise frightened or belligerent men start speaking like knights.

I usually have at least as much – or more – to share with the man that the woman who loves me chooses as a lover than they have to share with each other. Passion is fleeting, after all, but fellowship, and hard-earned fellowship at that, is a much rarer thing. It is possible that the women we love, when given the freedom to do what they naturally do, which is to love freely, will be like dousing rods, unearthing brothers we have lost and would never meet any other way.

This is no easy path. It requires real sensitivity to one's own limbic and nervous system as well as to the limbic and nervous systems of people with whom we might not have chosen to establish intimacy with. It doesn't work to suffer poor communication or disrespectful behavior, nor does it work to allow the perception of slights and insults to rule our actions. It also doesn't work to play "cool" and pretend detachment when your emotions are otherwise. You must have as much honor toward your own authentic self as you would to another person.

Practicing conscious polyamory is a profound balancing act. It takes all of our masculine faculties of reason and commitment, as well as the more feminine strengths of feeling, flexibility, and patience. It requires a commitment to direct communication between all the partners involved, even when the natural instinct is to flinch away. It's what Walt Whitman was talking about in "One's-self I Sing":

One's-self I sing - a simple, separate Person;
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-masse.

Of Physiology from top to toe I sing;
Not physiognomy alone, nor brain alone, is worthy for the muse - I say the Form complete is worthier far;
The Female equally with the male I sing.

Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful - for freest action form'd, under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.

And if that's not inspiring enough for you, consider this: When you can fully face your woman's desire for another, then when it's your turn to take a lover, you won't have to feel so goddamned guilty and ashamed - no matter how luscious the lover you choose might be. But be forewarned: In the long run the lover you choose might have as much or more to share with your beloved than either has to share with you.

 



Image by flauberto, used under a Creative Commons license.