The White Girl on His Arm

Scene 1

You are sixteen. You don’t know much yet about the significance of white womanhood (or, in your case, girlhood). You sense that your boyfriend, Marcel, is afraid of your neighbors, but you don’t yet understand what that has to do with you. You aren’t aware yet that, sweet as you are to him, you still put him in danger.

All your life you have heard the way your own community speaks about Black people in their absence. And where you’re growing up, Black people are almost always absent. By now, you have some idea of what Marcel represents in the eyes of your neighbors. You haven’t thought much yet about what you represent in the eyes of his.

What you do know is that you’re excited for the night ahead of you. Marcel is taking you to jam-session tonight in a basement bar downtown. Admittance is 16+ with no cover charge, and your parents don’t expect you home for several hours.

You don’t know the guy standing in front of the door, but Marcel knows him. Some guy from the neighborhood. He and Marcel slap a hand in greeting and then he gets a look at you.

“Daaaaaamn. CongratuLAAATIONS, my man. ConGRATulations. Damn!”

He looks and he looks and he congratulates, over and over. What is he congratulating, exactly? You haven’t even spoken a word.

Marcel is so uncomfortable. You are so uncomfortable.

You know that Marcel doesn’t see you as a prize. But he doesn’t stand up for you, or for himself. He takes it. So do you. You both smile awkwardly, trying to diffuse the moment. Trying to get past the guy quickly so Marcel can hop on stage, and you can enjoy the show.

You think the guy is saying that you’re pretty.

You don’t understand the other piece of it yet.


Scene 2

You’re grown now. In your twenties. You have come to meet your date, Charan, at his luxury apartment in your own car. You hug in greeting, and then he brings you upstairs.

Charan’s roommates, an unmarried couple, are stiff and formal when he brings you inside and introduces you. Each utters a quick “Hi, nice to meet you,” then looks away. You return the stilted greeting, not knowing what else to say.

Once tucked away inside his room you mention it casually. “Your roommates don’t say much.”

“Oh, they were probably just nervous. A white girl in their house, you know.”

After, he takes you out to eat at the South Indian spot that the area’s Indian population favors, the one with both a lunch and dinner buffet every day of the week. Inside, men watch you from every corner of the restaurant.

You eat, and then Charan heads to the bathroom to wash his hands. In the minute that he’s gone and you’re alone, a handful of those stares transform into winks. One of the waiters goes so far as to blow you a kiss.

You tell him about it when he gets back. Throw a quick nod in the direction of the kiss-blower to point him out. Charan says he would have expected as much. “They aren’t used to seeing a white woman in here with a dark-skinned Indian guy,” he says, as if there is some implication there that should be obvious. And maybe there is, but you’re not sure of it.

Charan appears vaguely uncomfortable. But then again, with you, he always seems a little ill at ease. In the face of this strange form of approval, who knows? He might even be pleased.


Scene 3

You’re still young. Not yet thirty. When you’re out with Wei, you wonder whether it’s your attire or the age difference that causes everyone who looks at you to bristle with distaste. Maybe the racial makeup of the pairing only seals the deal. Young white girl, older Asian guy. Does that confirm it for the onlookers – that this is exactly what it looks like?

Women in public have a way of glaring while averting their eyes.

The ones behind the hotel counter, at least, must be pretty damn sure. They’re the ones who checked him in for the day-use room.

Wei, for his part, loves the way they look at you. He asked you to dress this way for a reason, brings you outside of the hotel room to parade around in the open for a reason. Each time, you probe the experience, your self-consciousness tinged with curiosity. These moments are an experiment in kink, an entry-level taste of humiliation play. You wade inquisitively through the hate-stares.

Then, one day, you are leaving a restaurant together at three in the afternoon. Wei in his unassuming tee-shirt and track pants, you in your short-skirted getup with the stripper heels.

There is a man sitting drunk around the stoop of the restaurant. As you pass, he points a thick white finger at your body and yells, “You two have yourselves an INTERESTING night!” And suddenly, all at once, it isn’t fun anymore. The game is not a game. Your body trembles.

You never wear the short skirts and heels for Wei again. He understands.


Scene 4

You go out with Colin and nobody stares at you.

You feel the non-stares as loudly as though they are shouts.

Colin feels it, too. He, like you, is used to walking arm-in-arm with a Black woman – namely, his wife. This morning, she’s out on her own breakfast date with your wife.

Neither you nor Colin has ever been half of a white couple before. Like you, Colin is used to moving through quiet hostility when moving in a pair. The difference this morning is somehow both uneventful and staggering. In the small white town where you and your wife have lived for 5 years under a microscope, suddenly, you blend right in.

You start speaking to him so loudly that you are almost yelling. Saying there are too many American flags in here. American flags on little toothpicks in the food, for crissake! It’s not the damn Fourth of July.

In this moment, you lean into privilege in a twisted attempt to rail against it, morphing your insecurity into an absurd one-person protest. You are trying to broadcast an image of yourself, to tell all the white diners in attendance we are not like you! I am not like you! We don’t want to blend in with you. He and I aren’t this white couple. This is only a disguise.

But still, the normal, silent wave of hostility, or curiosity, or whatever it is that you have gotten used to swimming in, does not come. No matter how loud-mouthed and rude, you’re just the loud-mouthed lady of a nice white couple.

You storm out, off in search of a breakfast with no toothpick-tiny star-spangled banner stuck in the top of the pancakes.

Eventually you’ll find someplace to go. You will still be a white girl on somebody’s arm, representing whatever it is you represent, when you get there.


Photo by Nadezhda Diskant from Pexels

Hi readers! I’ve been on a blog hiatus lately as I struggle to process the current state of the world. I’m working on it, and intend to be back soon with some relevant reflections. For now, I decided to post this piece that I wrote a year ago (when I was still married, polyamorous, and sugar-dating), if only to prove that I’m still here.

If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog to keep up with the ever-changing love adventure. And if you’re open to content that’s even more intimate, take a peek at my author site, PeachBerman.com (18+).

Peace and clarity,

Peach

Greetings from the Bachelor Pad

Yes, it really did happen that fast. 

The end came swiftly, six weeks after Mari and Natalia began. In the middle of our marriage’s downfall, in the blur of Mari’s wild spin into the far-away dimension where she now resides, her mental health provider suggested that Mari may have bipolar disorder. 

Two weeks later, I turned to my wife in the driver’s seat of the car we bought together, 50 miles deep into the six-hour drive to my hometown. We were on the way to my little brother’s wedding. Through the static of six weeks’ worth of neglect and hurt, I asked her, 

“Have you thought about being married to Natalia instead of me?”

“Yes,” she answered. 

“But you still want to be married to me over anyone else in the world. Right?”

I stared at my queen, my baby, as her eyes gripped the road and her mouth stayed closed. So beautiful in profile. So iced with pain, already lost to me. She spoke.

“Do you really want to do this in the car?”


Many will tell you that this is the inevitable conclusion to an open marriage. 

Plenty of people who prefer monogamy believe that all nontraditional commitments are doomed to fail. I hear the hum of What did you expect? beneath the half-sympathies of a few friends and relatives whose support is more like criticism. You opened the door. Of course one of you was bound to walk through it. 

And I will tell you that yes, this is a story about polyamory gone wrong. In equal measure, this is also a story about the fragility of chosen family bonds that cross over race lines. Intercultural and interracial relationships are never easy, and we never did find resolution to those core differences between us. When she told me in the car that it was over, she explained that she could no longer see a future with me. That the family that we would make together would be a family that she no longer wants. That although she and I had worked so hard to build a life together, it was Natalia, a newcomer but a fellow Latina woman of color, who felt more like home. 

All that is true. But I will also tell you that, first and foremost, this is a story about mental illness. This labor of my love, my marriage to Mari, ends with a suddenness that is typical of hypomania. She would tell me later that she made the decision to end our marriage on the spot, and that the move felt outside of her control even as she was making it. Though it was Mari who put me out, she has appeared disoriented throughout the separation process, at times seeming not to understand why I was leaving. I have come to see, as I reacquaint myself to her in the light of her new diagnosis, that in a hypomanic state she is capable of doing things, yet experiencing those things as though they are being done to her

I look back now over the years and see my marriage as an ongoing trial, a struggle to devote myself to a beloved who moved through emotional space at an intensity and speed with which I could never keep up. My efforts to support her left me running behind her, making her excuses and cleaning up the messes of her impulse decisions. And when those periods of frenzy careened into each inevitable crash, I was left to shoulder the weight of our household alone, watching her suffer in depression, helpless to provide any relief.

I love Mari. I always will. She loves me too. 

I regret nothing of the life we made together. As hard as it was, as obvious as it seems now that we were never going to make it to the end, I am so, so glad to have married that woman. However brief our time as a family, it’s been an honor to have called myself her wife. 

But our marriage was the hardest thing that I have ever done. And I am so, so happy to be free.


I am not alone in this journey, and never have been. When she pulled the plug she sent me straight into the arms of my whole extended family, the tan line on my ring finger freshly exposed to the sun. The people who love me drew me close, and I stood proud beside my brother to celebrate his future with his new wife and their toddler son. I held my head high, smiled for the pictures and laughed with my cousins through the weekend. If you saw the wedding photos, you would never guess that I was standing in calamity. You’d never know that I got in the car to attend that wedding with my wife and arrived alone and single. I look beautiful and strong. My eyes are dry. 

Back in the apartment that I shared with my bride, I packed my things alone, sometimes crumbling into tears and confusion as I sorted my dirty clothes out of our shared hamper, split the wedding china, selected half the knives out of the knife block and pulled my books from our interlayered shelves. But when it came time to move the furniture, I didn’t have to lift that weight alone. Though he couldn’t be there in person to help, my Sugar Daddy paid to hire movers. 

My new apartment is chilly this autumn, but it feels cozy. It’s a little bit dark, but I feel bright. I wake up calm now in the mornings, looking up at the fissured panels of a drop ceiling that I pay to keep over my own head. There is no moment of shock, none of the confusion that sometimes comes from waking up in a new place. 

I know exactly where I am.

Please Pardon Our Appearance While I’m Lost in the Sauce

Dearest blog friends and followers,

Please excuse me for the radio silence. My love life, that subject which comprises two-thirds of the content of this strange blog, is metastasizing beyond my processing ability. Those lovely, clean personal essays with which I’ve been proud to populate this site, the likes of My Queen is Not Okay With This and The Caregiver Threat, are out of my reach now. I am still writing, but my thoughts come in short sentences, and everything I want to say feels too personal, almost gross. I’ve been too embarrassed to publish anything, too distracted to connect the flying threads.

A series of cascading developments leads me to my current state. Below, I offer a brief explainer for each of three emergent situations, followed by a relevant fragment from my journals (just for spice).

1. My girl is now in love with someone else

Remember Natalia, from The “We Had Sex” Text? She is now my wife’s girlfriend; they made it official on the two-week anniversary of the aforementioned sex in the aforementioned text.

Talk is of throupling, of big houses and commitment rites, of rainbows of multi-ethnic babies. Negotiations begin over the cat that Natalia will one day want, but I don’t want to live in a house with animals. Somewhere deep in my neocortex I can see the flesh of my hand sagging around the plastic handle of the litter box scoop. In the future now barrelling down on me, Natalia and Mari remain forever sparkling and beautiful, dancing away the city nights while I tend to the realm of sponges, mops and diaper pins. In this vision, in this future where a marriage equals three, I am the only one who appears to age.

Last month I fell asleep with my face in Mari’s headscarf every night, her body hot against my chest. This month, I sleep most nights alone.

Y’all, I am going through changes.

I begin to see myself in crying children– the way their feet outpace their balance and they fall, the way they gather up their breath in the split-second before the impact registers, before the howl bursts. The way they go running, hollering, for the arms they trust, needing those safe arms to close around them. Love steadies them. Connection returns them to themselves, restoring their breath to an even rhythm, placing their feet back on the ground.

But the arms I trust are in a far-off city, wrapped around another, newer body. I am no longer certain that those arms would still open for me if she were here.

2. I joined a dating app.

With my bedmate away I took action to stave off the loneliness and jealousy before it could consume me.

I lasted only four days on the open market before hitting a state of acute overwhelm. There is no drug, whether liquid, pill, or powder, as potent to my blood as the attentions of men. Even with my profile deleted, it took a few weeks for me to come down off the high, as well as to sort through the amorous rabble.

There are stories here, some funny, some sweet, some nearly tragic. I am struggling to write them– they rise and crest and crumble away before I get them down, and then the emotion that should animate the prose feels alien, impossible to render.

If you’re curious to read what I’ve been up to, please bug me about it in the comments. I’m going to need the external motivation to pull it off.

Imagine you wake up and you are not alone in bed– you sense presence and you think it is your wife, filling up her side of the bed just as she always does. You roll over, expecting your soft and lovely woman breathing slow beside you but instead it a giant, stinking onion, long and fibrous and thin. And as you stir, the onion wraps its reedy flesh around your neck, and even though it stifles, even though it stinks you cling to it, afraid to be alone.

3. My sugar daddy/Dom caught feelings.

You know my SD from If She Found Me and I Let Him Take Me Deep into the Woods. He’s been here all along; he helped inspire the theme of trueloveforsale.

But before the changes, he was a shadow presence. It made sense– for a cheater, a meaningful bond with an outside woman could spell disaster. Steadily over the months he pulled away from me, and I did not struggle to pull him back. I accepted the fact that I would only ever feel his intensity once per month, during our in-person rendezvous. At the same time, though, I realized that he was not enough for me.

But then I broke the news of my new potential lovers and all of the emotion that he’d held so tight so long broke loose inside him. Sleep evaded him, and a newfound recklessness set in. One night he told me that he nearly got into his car and drove two hours north to me, leaving some weak lie to hold his place at home. For the first time, I feared that he might blow his cover, fuck his marriage up and cut me off for good.

I never thought I would relish the suffering of my lover. But now, as he churns with a passion for me that he labels an “obsession”, I wonder whether this has been my get-off all along. Is this the ends that makes the work of loving worth my while? Just to bring them to their supplicating knees?

With my wife now away most of the nights, SD grows anxious, asking if my doors are locked. He tells me that he knows how a psychopath thinks. My life, to his imagination, becomes the opening scene in a horror movie: pretty girl alone in the house, in the shower hearing nothing but the falling of the water…

I dream him, glowering and silent in the backseat of a black and silent car. He arrives whether or not I have invited him. It soon comes clear that his lies, all of the lies that scaffold our arrangement have been to me, not merely about me, all along. In the dream he has wire-tapped the rooms of my apartment, and he asks for the identities of every voice he hears.

I discover the invasion and yes, I am angry, yes, I am terrified. But greater than the anger, greater than the fear of him is the fear of losing him. I understand the danger in the lines that he has crossed, and I know that cutting out, now, is a necessity. But still, I want desperately to keep him. I make excuses, argue with the facts. I do not want to let him go.


Friends, this is where I’m at. If any of the above sparks your curiosity, ask me for more in the comments. I am beginning to normalize, and I should soon be able to provide.

Until then, thank you for reading and interacting. And if you’re not yet following this blog, I’d love to have you along for the topsy-turvy ride. The follow button is at the bottom of the page.

All love,

P

The “We Had Sex” Text

There it is, smushed up between “Good morning” and “I love you”.

“Natalia and I hooked up.”

My first thought: Wait, aren’t you staying at your parents’ house?

Second thought: You had sex at your parents house? For the first time? Without me?

Third thought: Crap, if this little kid catches me texting she’ll snitch to her parents, and then I’ll have my first-ever reprimand from the bosses.

The flip phone that I carry to work is a great look– my boss can let me know that I need to switch that laundry to the drier or thaw an extra bag of breast milk without getting up to find me, all while remaining confident that I am not scrolling Instagram on the job. But even with its brown-nosing lack of internet access, the phone is an opening. A link to the world outside the house and all manner of grown-up news.

As my five-year-old charge trills my name a second time, I flip the phone shut, shove it down the side of my leggings, and brace for the emotional onslaught.

Feelings come. Envy (fuck, Natalia is hot) mixed with vindication (see, I knew she was into you) mixed with lonesome woe (you’re not home and the teddy-bear is useless as a big spoon) touched with compersion, a little bit of happy-for (fuck, Natalia is hot). The swirl of it moves through me as I sit with a baby on my lap, pretending to listen to the older sister read. By minute three of today’s selection from Five-Minute Curious George Stories, I am swimming in the soup.

The last time she sent me a morning-after newsbreak over text I was sick about it. My ribs rattled and my hands shook all day long as I hid from my bosses behind corners, texting her questions that grew less and less curious, more and more accusing.

This day is not that day. These feelings, however complex, are not the same as that dark, suspicious rage.

In the time that has passed since the last time we have worked on ourselves, together and separately. I have learned how and when to ease into the background. I have learned that sometimes, it just isn’t about me.

But I still have questions.

I want to know: Was it good? Were you drunk? Do you think your parents heard you? Do you think you’ll fall in love?

I have insecurities. I have jealous little pangs. I want to know: Will I ever be invited to come with you when you visit? Will I ever see Natalia again? Did I just lose my standing invitation to the annual conference that you both attend? If I’m ever around, will I just be getting in the way?

I remember all the time I’ve spent in her position, on her end of the message box. I think of the times I’ve had to send the “we had sex” text– the times I was eager to spill the beans, the times I was anxious. The times I was terrified.

I remember all of the moments that I so badly wanted to lose myself into the first thrumming chords of a new love, only to find myself texting. In those moments I felt I had no choice but to turn my back to my new lover in order to respond to her every ping. Each time, I ignored my heart and took up the mantle, soothing her, explaining to her, reassuring her that she’s My Number One.

Resenting her.

All of those moments in the past are today’s potential ammunition. I have all I need to demand precise recourse, forcing her to split her attention right now in order to satisfy my every curiosity and doubt. I could throw my temper. I could throw some guilt. I could suck her right down into me, with ease.

The phone buzzes. She asks, “Are you mad at me?”

I’m not. But I could say that I am just to make her grovel. The unease in my belly wants acknowledgement. I want some kind of reprieve, the kind that I might get if I spirit my phone off to the bathroom and rope her into an intense question-answer volley as two children hover at the door, whining, “What are you doing in there?”

I remind myself of what I know: this isn’t about me.

She has one more day and one more night together with her friend.

Whatever they are about to do, whatever they might one day be, is up to them. My feelings, my process as I cope with the challenge of this moment, are up to me. We will talk about it. These days that the two of them spend together will condense into a story. She will share that story with me, in some form, if and how she wants to share it.

But not now.

I get up. I go put the phone away, return, and drop down into the play-world of the children.


What’s the most surprising or difficult text you’ve ever received from a partner? How did you handle it, in the moment and later on?


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Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Two Decades in Coming-Out Stories

1998: Marisol at 7

From the back of her mother’s minivan, she makes her announcement:

“When I grow up, my husband’s gonna take my last name.”

The words must hit her mother like a slap.

The 25-year-old woman in the driver’s seat knows what it means to fear for her children. She has known that fear since the day that Mari, her eldest, was born.

But today she comes face-to-face with that other, additional reason that she fears for the future. Mari is her ace, her mini-me. What does she already understand about her little daughter? The pair have been fighting over dresses and jerseys, Mary Janes and sneakers since Mari was a toddler. Mari’s mother must know, in that moment, that the fighting over how Mari will dress, how she will speak, how she will play with her brothers, has barely begun.

Mommy answers.

“You might change your mind about that when you’re older.”

“No,” says Mari. Innocence is clarity. “I won’t.”


2004: Pauli at 12

I don’t understand why I am no longer welcome at the lunch table.

I hadn’t been afraid. I’d realized I was bisexual, and then I’d told my friends. I don’t think it’s any big deal, and neither do they.

Except for one, that is. Her name is Amy.

First Amy tries to convince the friend-group that a bisexual girl does not belong among them. When that doesn’t work she starts to maneuver them against me, one-by-one. She gauges into each girl’s insecurity with precision. She tells one that I ridicule her weight behind her back. She tells another that I call her poor, mock her for the size of her house.

On it goes until she’s worked her way around the table. Within a week, not one of them will speak to me. Not one of them will look me in the eye.

Suddenly friendless, I retreat into the closet. I claim to have been confused, seeking attention. I am not into girls.

I will never admit to being into girls again. The next time I assert my homosexual attraction, it’s to women.


2005: Marisol at 15

She opens her history notebook to a blank page deep in the middle. She begins to write.

I’m gay, she writes. I’m gay, I’m gay, I’m gay, until her revelation covers the page.

She looks it over.

The terror of seeing it ignites behind her eyes. She flips the page. Conceals the evidence.

She glances to her left, to her right. The kids in the adjacent desks are attending to the lecture or staring into space. No one is looking at her. What to do? How to get out of this?

The trash can is no good. Her handwriting is too identifiable. Even the sound of tearing out the page could draw notice. Could incriminate her, sitting with her truth splayed out before her in blue ink.

When class ends she shoves the notebook in her backpack, hustling it out the door like a live bomb.

She will go home, shred the guilty page into a slew of tiny pieces, and flush them down the drain.


2011: Marisol at 20

“I’m gay,” she tells her boyfriend.

They look at one another.

“Okay. Cool,” he answers.

They look at one another.

“So…” he asks. “What does this mean for us?”

He looks at her, eyes pleading. He’s in love with her. She’s the girl he wants to marry.

She looks back.


2013: Pauli at 20

My father picks me up in his white car in the dark. My 98-year-old grandfather rides in the passenger. We’ve barely gone a block when my Dad asks me if I’m seeing anybody.

“Uh huh. Yeah. I am. A basketball player.”

“Oh no kidding! Is he tall?”

“No, not really. She’s a point guard.”

My Dad taps the brake in the middle of the traffic, then accelerates. My head knocks forward, then knocks back. “She?! You’re dating a woman?!”

“Yes, Dad. Her name is Marisol.”

“Huh! A woman. Wow! Is she Jewish?”

“No, Dad. Her name is Marisol.”

My father reaches to his side, taps his father on the leg. “Did you hear that, Dad? Pauli has a girlfriend. She isn’t Jewish.”

“Ha!” my Grandpa answers. That’s the end of it.

I tell my little brother next. We are passing a bong between us in the grunge of our mother’s basement. I mention my girl. He tips back his head, eyes closing to the fluorescent light as if to bask in sun. He raises up a fist in triumph.

“I knew it! I KNEW it. I can’t WAIT to tell all my friends.”

And that’s that. I tell my mother last.

She’s heartbroken.

“How long have you known?” she asks me.

“That I’m bi? I’ve known for a long time. Since I was a kid.”

She stiffens. Her eyes open like wounds. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. We’ve always been so close.”

I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. She deserved my trust. I have kept her out for too many years.

I am arriving late. But I am here.


2018: Marisol and Pauli at the Altar

It is a celebration that extends outside of us.

We marry outdoors in the heart of downtown, as the sun is setting on a crisp September night. We are so spelled by one another that we don’t even notice it– our relatives and friends will tell us later. All around us, strangers gather. What is this scene they have happened across? Wedding guests, white and Black intermingled in the aisles. Two women in stilettos underneath the Chuppa, an old white Rabbi and a young Black minister standing sentinel behind.

Before, we were nervous. Ours was the first gay wedding in either family. We braced for the pushback, the tearful phone calls, the slew of no-shows.

But the pushback doesn’t come.

The family shows out in force for us. One hundred on her mother’s side alone. They sparkle in their finery. They radiate their joy.

Her father, stoic as always, walks her down the aisle to me, then sits down in the front row, fighting tears. By the end of the night, he and I will exchange our first “I love you.”

In the end, there is only one no-show. Mari’s uncle will have to stand in for him on the altar, at her side.

It is her brother who does not show up.


2020: Marisol at Home

She swears it: her family will never know.

I dropped it on my own family more than a year ago. Surrounded by my cousins, my brothers and their girlfriends, my wife at my side, I casually mentioned my boyfriend. Titters and grins made their way around the circle. My brother’s lady socked him in the arm, saying “Why don’t we do that?!” He shot me a glare, and that was that.

But my wife has no intention of revealing it to her family. They’ve come so far since we met, struggled against their Catholic ethics to accept her marriage as equal to any straight one. Why push our luck by telling them that marriage is non-monogamous, too?

For years, she holds the line. Then she meets a girl.

She falls in love, and it changes. First she tells her brother, the one who did stand beside us at our wedding. He laughs. “Yeah, no shit,” he says. He knows. He clocked us years ago, but had the grace to keep it quiet. “I knew you’d tell me when you felt like it,” he says. Simple as that.

Then she decides to tell her Mom. She asks her out on a walk just the two of them, saying she’s got something to talk to her about. And they talk about it.

“It’s strange to me, my daughter,” Mommy says. “I just hope that you protect your marriage. What you and Pauli have is sacred.”

“It is, Mom. I know. But this is a part of what we have. This is who we are.”

“Well my daughter. Whatever makes you happy.”

And that’s that.


Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

For Couples Who Are Opening Up

We meet them at a dance party in Provincetown, in between the hoards of boys, boys boys– a lesbian couple. Val and Rachel. 31 and 25, respectively. Absurdly cute, and here for the weekend.

Standing with Val, I watch as Rachel shimmies away into the dance floor. She’s following Blaire, another queer cutie who introduced herself to the group of us with hugs and exclamations of excitement. “I turned 21 during the pandemic so this is all new to me!” she’d gushed, before bobbing away into the bumping crowd.

Rachel soon returns alone, leaving Blaire to gyrate happily with the party boys. I take the opportunity to sate my curiosity. Casually, I ask them,

“So, I take it you two are open?”

The pair exchange a sweet, secretive grin. Without breaking the eye contact between them, they respond in two voices, still grinning:

“It’s been a conversation.”

Clearly, whatever conversation they’ve been having lately has them both excited. For many couples– for my wife and I, when we were younger– talking about opening up is a torment, an ongoing fight. It’s a pleasure to see them emanating joy as they confess their fledgling secret to two strangers.

When we divulge our own truth, that we’ve been actively poly for some years now, their eyes spark with intrigue.

“What advice do you have?” Val asks. “What are your top three tips for couples like us?”

My wife ducks behind her drink, tipping her head in my direction with a bemused smirk. “All you babe. You start.”

I pause, thinking. I want to offer something they won’t hear, won’t read anywhere else. Some nuggets of wisdom that one could only find along our strange path.

Here’s what I came up with.


1. Keep track of energy– where it moves and how it flows.

You are likely, in your poly journey, to take up relationships with other polyamorous people. That can mean getting involved with people who are nurturing other relationships, building families, negotiating the terms of commitments and marriages.

It can mean exposing yourself to other people’s mess.

In any dating paradigm, people are exchanging energy and impacting one another even outside of the time they spend together. But now that you’re thinking about dating while simultaneously co-creating a stable partnership, you’ve got more than your own energy to think about, and more than your own well-being to protect. Your new lover may thrill you, may fulfill you, but if they also drain your emotional resources and tamper with your mood, your left with that much less resource and that crappy mood to share with your partner.

Be on the lookout for a lover who is willing to share their disappointments about another relationship or partner. If on the second or third date your new love interest begins lamenting that her husband just doesn’t understand her, just doesn’t listen to her the way you do, find the nearest emergency exit and plan a route.

2. Love moves at its own pace.

It’s common to try to control the speed at which feelings and connections develop. But is it ever successful?

Not in my experience. I’ve never seen someone develop a crush more gradually in order to accommodate their partner. Think about it– it’s pretty impossible to control the pace of development of your own romantic feelings, let alone someone else’s. Have you ever successfully talked yourself down from an ill-advised crush, or convinced your heart not to get so excited about your newest prospect?

Attempts to control the development of someone else’s emotions or connections are a recipe for anguish, for yourself and for your partner.

If you are not ready to coexist with your partners new feels, then it’s time to get to work on your own jealousy. Look to your partner for support in the gut-wrenching labor of self-work. Voice your insecurities, seek reassurance– but if you ask your partner to stick to kissing their new sweetie until you’re ready for them to have sex, or to put off falling in love until you’ve wrapped your head around the concept, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

“You’re really just asking her to lie to you,” adds my wife.

She would know.

3. You are accountable to your other lovers, not just each other.

As a member of a couple, you are operating from a position of power on the dating scene.

It’s natural to focus first on yourself and your partner. You don’t want to hurt the person you love most. Sometimes, that means you just have to sideline someone else who you’re talking to, because your relationship comes first.

The only problem with that is that you’re being a dick.

Everyone else who you encounter has feelings and needs, just like you, and just like your partner. You might not be able to prioritize anyone’s needs over yours and your beloved’s, but you don’t get to disregard those other people’s needs, either.

Be aware of your impact, on your own love interests and on your partner’s. Say you change your mind about opening up, and you demand a return to monogamy just as your partner is embarking on a new romance. Now there’s a third person in the mix to consider. Should your insecurities spell that person’s broken heart?

Anyone who shares their time, their body, and their love with you deserves your gentleness. They deserve clear and honest communication around desires, expectations, availability. They deserve to be treated as a whole person, not as an experiment or a practice space for your pre-established relationship.

So, get out there and love freely. Share yourself with the world, unburdened by the conventional constraints of couplehood.

Just try not to be a dick about it.

Do you agree with my advice? What other tips would you offer to couples who are opening up?

Photo by Tim Douglas from Pexels