Why Polyamory?

January 19th, 2009 by Steve Pavlina

My interest in polyamory isn’t primarily about finding other sex partners. The real reason is to enjoy close, emotionally intimate connections with other people. Emotional intimacy and genuine friendship are the most important factors. Those relationships may or may not include physical intimacy as well.

A common misconception is that polyamory is all about the sex. For some people sex with multiple partners is a very big deal, but for the vast majority of poly people I’ve communicated with, sex just isn’t the main reason for going poly. It wasn’t my #1 reason either.

If you want to understand the realities of polyamory, try not to be too obsessed with the sexual component. Sex is only one piece of the much larger puzzle.

Saying that polyamory is all about the sex is no different than saying marriage is all about the sex. Say to a married couple, “Oh, please… you two just got married for the sex. Admit it!” At best you’ll probably get an eye-roll in response. A similar response is appropriate for polyamorous relationships.

Friendship Is the Core

My relationship with Erin began on the basis of friendship. We became close friends first and soon became lovers too. Our beautiful friendship has always been precious to me, and it has served as the core of a very strong relationship. I genuinely care about Erin, and she cares deeply about me. She and I have been best friends for many years.

Some people consider sexual attraction or sexual chemistry to be the core of a good relationship. This can certainly make for a fun short-term fling, but by itself it doesn’t provide much substance for a deep, intimate connection. Good chemistry is a great thing to have, but it’s not the only thing that matters.

I understand that the desire for sex can seem overwhelming when you’re in your teens or 20s (especially if you consume dairy products and ingest your fair share of bovine hormones). But as you get older, your sex drive needn’t play such a huge role in your life. Other factors become more important, especially long-term compatibility and shared values.

Emotional Intimacy

What really draws me to polyamory is the opportunity to be emotionally intimate with other people. I’m referring to deep, soulful connections similar to what I’ve experienced with Erin.

You may be thinking that I could have achieved this from within the confines of my marriage without having to resort to full-on polyamory. Just hold that thought for now. To explain this honestly will take a bit of unraveling.

When Erin and I first met, I’d never really had a close, emotionally intimate relationship with anyone. In large part due to my upbringing, the shields around my heart were very strong, and I didn’t let other people get too close to me in terms of intimacy.

In my late teens and early 20s, if a woman tried to get close to me, I’d usually deflect her. I did the same thing with my male friends too. None of my friends knew the real me because I shielded my true self from being too exposed. Most of the time I didn’t even realize I was doing this. It just seemed normal to maintain a certain minimum safe distance from others. I’m referring to emotional distance, not physical distance.

Then Erin came into my life, and everything went kittywompus. She was able to bypass my shields because she was so open, honest, and non-judgmental. She awakened parts of me I thought were long dead. In our earliest encounters, I found myself telling her things I never told anyone. I felt I could trust her with anything. I never knew how much I needed my heart until I met her. I wrote an article that goes into detail about this called Soulful Relationships, one which many people have found helpful.

Even so, letting Erin in was still difficult for me at times. Early in our relationship, I confessed that I didn’t think I could love her because I didn’t know how to love. It was an emotion I hadn’t felt since early childhood. I even suggested we break up because of this. But she wouldn’t have any of it. Instead she said, “I will teach you how to love.” She saw something in me that I didn’t know was there. It took a while, but she eventually succeeded.

When Erin and I first met, I had zero compassion. I truly didn’t care about anyone. I lived only for myself, and no one else really mattered to me. However, I did feel a strong energetic draw to Erin. It was as if our two souls magnetically attracted each other. Regardless of what I did or didn’t feel, I couldn’t pull away.

Little by little, Erin helped me work through all the blocks I had. My heart slowly opened, and I began to genuinely care about her. Soon I started caring about other people… then animals… then much more. Today I don’t even harm bugs anymore. I would no sooner harm a spider than a kitten. This isn’t just something I sense intellectually. I feel it emotionally as well.

While Erin was showing me how to open my heart, I was teaching her courage. I showed her how to identify and pursue her dreams in ways no one else could. I encouraged her to stop working for other people and to generate income independently. I helped her develop her skills and talents. I pushed her to face her fears again and again and to stop settling for less than she’s worth. I saw something in her that even she couldn’t see.

Throughout this time we became lovers too. I was very attracted to her. New issues came up in the bedroom, and we worked through them together. As you may know, Erin was previously in an abusive relationship for 3-1/2 years, so we worked on healing those old wounds together.

To this day our relationship remains extremely soulful. I have no doubt that we were meant to be together.

I’m totally in love with Erin, and I can’t imagine not wanting her in my life. However, I can also see that it’s time for our relationship to change form. We’re not the same people we were 15 years ago. We still have much more to share with each other, but we’re past the hump of integrating the most important lessons.

Erin has learned to be strong and courageous. She’s pursuing her passion. She’s taking action to help people around the world. She’s actively getting her message out there. By finally embracing a talent she’s had since early childhood and moving beyond her fears, she’s become one of the top psychic mediums on the planet. That’s a far cry from the $9/hour secretary I first met. When I look at Erin today, it’s unbelievably gratifying to know that I played a role in helping her become the amazing woman she is today.

It’s almost unfathomable how much I’ve grown as a result of our relationship as well. Erin has done things for me that I never would have done on my own. My past self would never believe that someday I’d be doing the work I’m doing today, especially in the way I currently do it. I give so much away for free simply because I want everyone to be happy, fulfilled, and at peace with themselves. I care about people very deeply, and that deep sense of caring has become the core of my motivation and drive. I’m so happy and fulfilled that sometimes it feels like my cells are about to explode with radiant energy. Is it possible to become too happy?

This is just a glimpse of what my relationship with Erin means to me, but if you can understand and accept at least this much, it will be easier to grasp the context for wanting to expand into polyamorous relationships.

In all this time, I never sought to develop a deep, emotionally intimate connection with anyone but Erin. There are several reasons for this. For starters, we were experiencing so much growth together that I wouldn’t have had the capacity for another relationship like ours. It would have been too much to handle. Another reason is that I harbored the limiting belief that this would somehow be a form of betrayal toward Erin. And lastly, I simply wasn’t ready for it yet. A deep, emotionally intimate connection with another human being can be a powerful, life changing experience for all involved. That isn’t the sort of energy I would casually play with.

Now that my relationship with Erin has matured to a certain point, our roles have changed. We’ve both integrated each other’s lessons so well that the changes we induce in each other have become more incremental. It seems that our relationship has more to do with reinforcing and supporting those changes as well as making changes together as a couple, instead of one of us inducing a major shift in the other. Now we interact more like teammates instead of coaches to each other.

Consequently, we have the capacity to explore other intimate relationships as well. I doubt any new relationships will create as dramatic a shift as what we both experienced together, but I still believe a tremendous amount of good can come from connecting with others as Erin and I have connected with each other. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

Emotional Polyamory vs. Sexual Polyamory

While it may seem that I could have developed emotionally intimate relationships with other people from within the confines of monogamy, it didn’t feel that way to me. I can understand those who think that way, but that isn’t how I view the situation.

For me, sharing emotional intimacy with others was a much bigger deal than having casual sex on the side. Having sex with other people just wasn’t that big a deal to Erin and me. If I simply wanted to have sex with other women, I could have done that years ago. Erin and I had already talked about it, and she was fine with it. Sometimes she actively suggested that I should go out and have sex with other women, believing I’d enjoy the experience. But at the time I never pursued it.

I regarded my emotional monogamy with Erin as the essence of our marriage. Having sex with other women wouldn’t have been a serious taboo for either of us. But being emotionally intimate with other people — now that was a very big deal to me.

Sharing my body with another woman? No biggie. But sharing my heart and soul? Huge deal!

Erin was the only human being I’d ever been really, deeply emotionally intimate with. However, as I started blogging and sharing more and more of my real self with the world, and as I began delving into the notion of Oneness, I began to see that I’d eventually have to let go of emotional monogamy.

Eventually I became comfortable with the idea of getting really close to people other than Erin. That definitely wasn’t easy for me, but I’ve gone far enough down this path that it’s clear I won’t be turning back.

The reason that sex is even part of the equation is that if I become emotionally intimate with a woman, it could lead to sex as an expression of our emotional connection. Sex may not be the primary goal, but it can be a natural extension of emotional polyamory.

In fact, the main reason I didn’t pursue sexual polyamory years ago, even though Erin was fine with it, is that I was worried that being physically intimate with other women could lead to emotional intimacy, and I wasn’t ready for that yet. Sex tends to be a very loving, connected experience for me. It isn’t easy for me to treat it as a casual physical act without getting wrapped up in the other person’s energy. I’ve never had a one-night stand or anything like that.

So even though sexual polyamory has been on the table for years, I could never pull the trigger because I thought that it would probably lead to emotional polyamory, and I definitely wasn’t ready to go there. I was happy being emotionally intimate with Erin, but to create that kind of connection with someone else was just too much for me.

Now that I’m finally open to sharing emotional intimacy with other people, the sexual polyamory block is removed at the same time. But again, the sexual aspect by itself was never that big a deal for either of us. I know it can be a huge deal to some people, but for us, having sex with other people is really no big whoop. Being sexually monogamous just isn’t that important to either of us.

If Erin went out and had sex with someone else, assuming she did it safely, that wouldn’t bother me any more than if she shared a meal with someone. I think it would be a nice experience for her to get some extra variety now and then.

Poly-Sex as Taboo

I have a hard time relating to couples who regard having sex with other people as such a huge taboo. Why not give your partner the freedom to go out and enjoy some extra variety now and then? Why get all hot and bothered about it? Is your relationship really so insecure that you can’t trust that your partner won’t dump you after having great sex with someone else? I don’t get it. This kind of thinking is totally fear-based.

Just to be clear, I’m absolutely fine with couples who mutually agree to be monogamous with each other and who simply don’t want to sleep with anyone else. If that’s your conscious choice, terrific!

Since I started writing about polyamory, I’ve been hearing from many halves of couples, where one partner would really love to be sexually polyamorous, but the other partner will have none of it. In some cases, the mono partner won’t even entertain a discussion about the subject. This is a huge no-no. Stonewalling such open, honest communication will only feed resentment and unhappiness if left unresolved. A painful break up is very likely.

If you block your partner from openly discussing polyamory with you, what happens? You emotionally disconnect from your partner as well. Then your partner turns around and writes to me to share the thoughts and feelings they really should be sharing with you.

Why do they share this with me instead of you? Because they know they can trust me and that I won’t judge them for being who they are. Now doesn’t it strike you as odd that your partner is able to trust me more than you in this area? All your non-acceptance is doing is pushing your partner away, causing him/her to seek open, honest communication with someone else. Shouldn’t your partner be able to turn to you first? Drop the judgment and non-acceptance, and allow yourself to really listen to your partner, and your relationship will enjoy a renewed level of trust and intimacy.

If you find yourself stuck with a partner who’s stonewalling your attempts to even discuss polyamory, why are you tolerating such nonsense? If your partner won’t even listen to you, the truth is that you don’t really have a committed, loving relationship. At best you have a living arrangement. I know it’s sad to realize that, but if you can’t communicate openly and honestly about such an important topic with your partner, then how can you even justify staying with such a person? What sort of relationship do you even have if there’s no actual relating going on?

Naturally you should use your best efforts to get through to your partner and open a real dialog. Some resistance is to be expected, and it may take hours of patient listening to get past it. But if you have a committed, caring, compatible relationship, then ultimately your partner will be able to hear what you have to say and consider it. If it becomes clear you can’t reach that point no matter how hard you try, it’s time to think about leaving. You’ve likely outgrown your partner, and it’s best to move on.

Erin and I are willing to talk openly about absolutely anything. If we weren’t willing to listen to each other, then how could we claim to be in a loving relationship together? Many times we discuss topics that give rise to some resistance, but when that happens, we just talk through it until we get to the core issues.

I trust that Erin cares about me and wants me to be happy, and she trusts me and cares about me as well. If we didn’t share that core level of trust and caring, such as if our relationship was based on little more than sexual chemistry or attraction, then our relationship would largely be a sham.

Is your partner your friend? Do you trust him/her completely? If so, then you should be able to discuss what matters to you openly and honestly, trusting that your partner cares about you enough to listen. If you can’t reach that point even with your best efforts, then you must ask yourself, “Does my partner truly care about me as a human being? Does my partner truly want me to be happy? Is our relationship rooted in love and acceptance… or fear and attachment? Do we have real love here, or have we become mired in fear?”

Remaining loyal to a fear-based relationship isn’t noble or selfless. It’s simply cruel.

If you discover you’re in a relationship without a heart, please leave. I know that isn’t easy, but you deserve to be happy, and so does your partner. If you genuinely care about your partner, give him/her the opportunity to wake up with a smile again. And give yourself that gift as well. If you can’t wake up with a smile, then perhaps you aren’t really awake yet.


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