Story of a Polyamory Pioneer: An Intimate Case of Love and Personal Growth
A man’s journey from monogamy, through cheating, to honest non-monogamy and a life of multiple lovers in a time when few had heard of Polyamory.
In 1990, 24-year-old Russel* sat in a car, surrounded by a picturesque landscape. He was accompanied by a beautiful local woman from a country he was holidaying in. There was erotic touching. It was a thing from the romance novels.
She wasn’t his girlfriend. His girlfriend was in fact visiting her parents in the same city. Young Russell didn’t think he cheated since there wasn’t any intercourse. He lied by omission. “I just didn’t tell my girlfriend about it.”
The old Russell looks at that incident differently. “That was my first infidelity.”
Little did he know he is on a journey from monogamy through cheating to ethical non-monogamy.
“I didn’t know that I was polyamorous in my teens. But I’ve always had the capability of having really close connections with other people and I’ve always loved women,” said Russell.
After that foreign holiday, he started cheating and having relationships with other women. He said that there were many one-night stands, quick ‘festival fucks’ and drunken snugs behind pubs post that affair.
Russell, who is extroverted and calls himself someone who is full of life, said that his girlfriend didn’t like going out that much and wasn’t very social. That way, she could not find out for a while that he was cheating on her.
“So I had opportunities to have sex with other women and have intimate times with them. And somehow, in my cannabis-addled and alcohol-user brain, I kind of thought it was okay. Looking back on it, I know very clearly that it was immoral and wrong. I don’t respect myself for it,” he said with his calm face, eyes looking straight at me.
However, it is worth mentioning here that Russell’s discovery of being polyamorous involved multiple such episodes of cheating. He had had four years of monogamy with his girlfriend and then two and a half/three years of what he called ‘playing around’ before he finally embraced ethical non-monogamy – where there is no cheating, no lying.
Interestingly, he wasn’t exactly honest with his girlfriend back then. She found out of his infidelity when one of his friends told her. When confronted, Russell accepted. That is what ended things with her finally. That is also officially what ended his life of monogamous relationships and ironically started his life of honest non-monogamy. This was 1994.
A year before, in 1993, he had met another woman who he was having an affair with and was getting closer to. This was an important year of his life. He said they were great friends and that since his girlfriend had mental health problems that he had difficulty coping with, he often offloaded his emotional burdens on to this other woman. They went to festivals together and in 1996 started living together.
He said that she knew he was non- monogamous. “She has always accepted that I’m non-monogamous.”
She was married before and her husband was non-monogamous and lied to her. So, she appreciated him for not lying, he said about her. “She has never been jealous. She met some of my other non-monogamous women friends, she was absolutely fine about it.”
In 1999 he married her and now has two children with her. He continues to be polyamorous.
He was just 17 when someone he knew sensed he was non-monogamous for the first time though. She wanted to go out with him but didn’t because of this. People didn’t know what polyamory is back then.
Russell himself did not know that he is what people now call ‘polyamorous’ until 2007. That is when someone mentioned to him that some woman is looking for polyamorous people like him.
“I said what?”, he said in his very calm voice and a slight smile, “That was 2007 or 2006, something like that. 13 years after I’d started doing poly, when I thought I’d invented it, I heard the word polyamory.” One could almost sense a tinge of pride in his voice, which rarely changed in volume.
That discovery changed his relationship with his wife for a while. She thought all this while that all his other female partners were sex partners only. But, polyamory meant multiple lovers. What was that all about?
He said that she asked him if he loved all these other women and he said, ‘yes, absolutely.’
That was a shocker. He said that she took about a week to come to grips with this idea. “But, I’ve always known it’s not sex only. I like connecting. I like sharing. I like the friendship, the romance, the buzz. I like the sex too. I like giving pleasure.”
Things got better in a few weeks, Russell said, when she saw that nothing really changed and that he just got a name for his “behaviour of orientation”.
“We’re very happily married.”
But it didn’t mean there were no more conflicts in the marriage – related to or unrelated to polyamory. However, Russell said Polyamory teaches skills that work towards better resolutions.
“We’ve been together for 30 years now. Of course, there are conflicts, but I would say that there are no more conflicts in a polyamorous relationship than there are in monogamous relationships.
“The thing about polyamory is that you learn to be a really good communicator because you cannot be polyamorous without learning how to express your needs, to ask how the other person is feeling, to negotiate boundaries, to consider active consent, to talk about sexual health.”
Russell said that he is not a coaster and likes to take charge of his relationships and wants to do them well. But he is also autistic and says that that has caused him to be vulnerable.
“I have a diagnosis of high functioning autism and I am very trusting and possibly very gullible – partly to do with my autism. And on two occasions, I have been used or misled by women. And on both occasions, my wife who is very wise and perceptive and understands how people tick, spotted that these women were not good for me.”
In one of those relationships, he said that he lied. “I did deceive her over something, and it was the wrong thing to do. And it led to some conflict, but she is forgiving, and I believe I’ve learned my lesson and will not do that kind of stupid thing again. I’ll try not to. I’m only human. I get things wrong. I’m fallible, but I’m a good guy.”
He feels that if you want to keep a beautiful, perceptive woman in your life, be daring to tell her the truth.
He recalled being in love with a 71-year-old ‘polyamorous person just waiting to happen’. He said he helped her discover polyamory after she had spent 19 years of celibacy.
“I met her. We clicked. I said I wouldn’t mind meeting for a coffee but it’s not a date because I’m married, and I’ve four girlfriends already. She found that interesting. I told her about polyamory, and she said – ‘Oh, I wish I’d known about that when I was 30. But now it’s too late.’ I looked at her and said, I don’t think so.” A naughty smile spread on his face.
He said she had had three husbands, one after the other but just didn’t understand that you could love more than one person at once. And, four months after he started seeing her, he introduced her to one of his friends and she started seeing him.
“So, this little old lady was now walking along with a spring in her step.” His grin remained. “And her friends asked ‘What’s happened’ and ‘Have you discovered God’ because it was a transformation. She said ‘I’ve got a boyfriend. In fact, I’ve got two.’ He was happy in her happiness, he said.
He was also happy to have a metamour (a partner’s other partner) he got along with.
“It was great. And, to make this little old lady happy in the last years of her life – she’d been given a terminal cancer diagnosis – was one of the most beautiful things I’ve experienced. Seeing her blossom and enjoy the attention of two very caring men (was great). We gave her completely different experiences because we weren’t similar in any way. So, she got the best of two worlds.”
They had three and a half years of a beautiful relationship, he said. He really loved her so when she died, he was heartbroken. He said that what they had for each other was incredible and that even though there is no hierarchy for him in terms of who he loves more, he did love her the most when she was alive.
Describing his wife’s viewpoint about his sex life and multiple love interests, he said that his wife has arthritis and so she is in pain. It’s not a very sexual relationship between them at this point in their lives.
He said his wife is happy that he is having sex with somebody else because she said to him once that “You need sex, Russell.” He said, “Do I need sex? Probably not. Do I like sex? Yes.’”
There are also ground rules between him and his wife around his sexual and love life. One of their rules, he said, is that he does not discuss what he is doing with other women with his wife. He does not bring anybody home and have sexual activity with them in their bed. If she asks him a direct question, he answers honestly, he said.
“I don’t come home smelling of somebody else, or with a silly grin on my face telling her all the amazing things I’ve been doing. She doesn’t want to know.”
He said that most people think it’s all fun and games and that polyamory is just good times. It’s a lot of work too. But, a lot of people view it as a promiscuous sexual activity only.
“When I tell people about polyamory a lot of men say you are shagging three birds. Well, yeah, but it’s just not that. You need to work at it to make it good and to make it work. You need to think hard about the needs of more than one person and that’s not easy.”
Giving an example of a relationship between his wife, him and his other partner he said that there are three relationships here because there’s a relationship between me, my primary partner (wife) and my other partner. Then there is also a relationship between the primary partner and the other partner. “They may never meet, but there is an additional layer of complication.”
As far as marriage is concerned as an institution, even though he is married for 22 years now, he said that if the option of a civil partnership were open at that time, they would have both taken it up.
“Marriage is based on a sexist precept. It is about ownership. It’s the man who owns the wife. The woman is given away by another man, the woman has to change her name. She doesn’t have to but traditionally changes her name to the man’s name. How fucking sexist is that? That doesn’t fit my view at all.”
He said that he is also proud of his wife who agrees with him on this despite being traditional.
“We’ve had a joke since then about whether we should get divorced so that we can then have a civil partnership? But no, we’re going to just go with the fact that we’re happily married.”
“We have an unconventional marriage. I have other lovers. She’s happy with me,” he said with a full-beam smile, grey hair circling his bald top of the head.