Navigating Polyamory

We opened up our marriage last year, naively trusting the growth within our strictly monogamous union would smoothly translate to a new setup where we got to openly love other souls. Today, we understand there was much for which we could have prepared more intentionally, in all we most definitely could not have anticipated. We are sharing our story, the lessons we gleaned from our toughest year as a couple yet, because we ultimately love everything polyamory has gifted us but are careful not to romanticize the learning curve with which it confronted us.

1
2

Last year, on the night of the start of Pisces season, high off the sweet energy of a much-needed reunion of old college friends long separated by distance, River’s old friend confessed to lingering feelings, first ignited many years ago, which River reciprocated in the moment. This seemingly innocuous yet very intense confession would completely alter the way we existed as a married couple. River experienced and Alex witnessed the exchange in a mixture of curiosity, as the porousness of the weekend had actually touched all three of us, and fear, inevitable in all the newness. The two emotions would nonetheless combine into a willingness to explore the depths of our polyamory, both orchestrated by a rather unadvisable mix: impatience and codependency.

What should have admittedly been a much longer conversation, maybe even one we explored in couple’s therapy, was more of a nervous surrender to our circumstances. Even if the curiosity had indeed been brewing for years, in hindsight, our immediate response to an intoxicated confession should not have been to so quickly shift the very mechanics of our relationship. Funnily enough, our impatience can perhaps be best explained by our codependency. River took the leap of faith subconsciously trusting Alex’s “yes” meant Alex would be the bridge between River and her old friend, who shared a much too tumultuous history to which Alex was not fully privy.

Alex, however, jumped into the idea of a friendly triad as a way to cling onto River. Alex’s attachment issues, which are linked to her PTSD and BPD, manifested themselves in a strong fear of abandonment, which later grew into a toxic jealousy. Up until this shift, she had unfairly put the pressure of validating her sense of self-worth entirely onto River. When we first got together, Alex’s PTSD was at its most acute and River was there for every panic attack, every self-doubt, every “Do you really love me?” Now, Alex had to forge her own sense of independence, strength, and belief that she could survive without the home she built inside of River. She had to believe that she could heal without River being her everything.

The triad setup did not last long for now painfully obvious reasons. Over the next few months, River settled into a calmer rhythm with her old friend on her own, while Alex explored her feelings for people in her past. Around the time River’s friendship and Alex’s relationships (inevitably) fizzled, we decided to shift yet again. Acknowledging balance and independence were crucial to our growth this time, we let more people in. We gave ourselves and each other the freedom and trust to be with completely new people. What that looked like for each of us, for the most part, was online dating.

3
4

For a couple who had struggled with intense shame due to our shifting genders, dating other people felt like the Tower in the tarot, like Uranus himself: almost traumatic in its surprising newness. Whom were we “supposed to” date given the choice? Who would date each of us? We quickly realized our dating pools were majority gay men and majority straight men, respectively. Navigating our fears of seeing each other date men was immensely difficult. Navigating the reality of us dating men felt nearly impossible, especially in the beginning. Outside a bar, a stranger assumed River and one of her then-boyfriends were married! At a restaurant, the host immediately assumed the guy entering was the date for whom Alex was waiting. Quite frankly, it hurt to see each other in relationships, however casual, where the attraction was seen and affirmed, something that, to this day, does not happen for us regularly.

Yet, perhaps the most difficult part of navigating polyamory last year was accepting how different we are from each other in all things relationships. Though our styles have worked for us throughout the years, our relationship is actually something of an unusual match. So, at the end of the day, we have different instincts in and want different things from the relationships we seek out outside of our relationship. (Not to mention, of course, different people unlock different things for us.) River’s Geminian luna had her moving through polyamory like a butterfly looking to love in twelve ways, finding power in all her selves: sexually liberated, friendship-deepening, friendship-ruining, and even romantically committed.

Alex’s Capricornian moon, instead, had her moving much more slowly and carefully in what certainly felt like relationships where longevity was the utmost priority. This was greatly a result of Alex’s own history with intimacy. More specifically, Alex struggled immensely with healing from her trauma in new relationship dynamics. She struggled deeply with navigating sex with new people while carrying sexual trauma, not being terrified to assert her desires, reckoning with insecurities she masked in the security of her monogamous marriage, and believing that she could be cared for by other people.

5

After confronting our impatient codependency, the pain of our genders in relation to new people, and the growing incompatibility of our signature unpredictability and stubbornness, we realized we were not as connected as we used to be (to the point even our art had taken a hiatus.) Each new development rightfully felt like uncharted territory, pushing us to process and over-process, in couple’s therapy at one point, too, without really connecting, something we missed more and more. So, we did what we thought was best near the end of last year: We committed to retreating, reconnecting, reassessing, and hopefully returning to polyamory in the future.

Though in some ways we are still very much in the reconnecting and reassessing stages of our “plan,” we feel ready to return to polyamory from a solid place, not the nervous one that had us fearing we could lose ourselves or each other if we did not do something or the other. We love being unconventionally loving with humans we cherish deeply, whose patience with us astounds us. The work required for loving them even better is cut out for us. We will let you know what it takes when we figure that part out. For now, we have a strong feeling it takes working tirelessly on ourselves, so wish us luck on those journeys!

Photography by Falyn Huang
Makeup by Shamis McGillin
Styling by Hedilio Martinez