TOUR Day 7 - Los Angeles and Polyamory
I am a sucker for magazine subscription deals. When Conde Nast sends me a letter, I’m automatically down for a year of “Allure” — especially if it comes with a free hideous “clutch purse” (put in quotation marks because no self-respecting woman would do anything with a free magazine purse, except maybe use it to pick up dog poop). If you wonder how many magazines I subscribe to, I am slightly embarrassed to say that I don’t know for sure. More than 20. And “Teen Vogue” twice. I like having piles of unread magazines to bring on vacations, because it can be difficult to carry a bunch of books, and when you’re done with a magazine you can just leave it at a bus stop, or under someone’s couch.
Los Angeles was the city that started to break me. It’s a week into the tour, and I am used to sleeping more consistently and eating more salad. I am used to sitting in vans less. I am used to being left alone for entire 24-hour periods. I began to have an allergic reaction to the air: all the blood vessels in my face burst into little asterisks on my cheeks. So I broke out a copy of “Glamour” while Chris watched wrestling on Brock’s television. I did not pretend to like wrestling. I pacified my panic with pictures of women wearing one jean jacket 45 different ways. (I know it sounds impressive, gentlemen, but it’s just the same one way, with 45 different pairs of pants. That’s all they mean by that.)
Halfway into “Glamour,” I came across an article that made me feel confused. It was basically just a data set of poll results titled, “Men and Commitment: By the Numbers.” “Glamour” had surveyed all these men on their thoughts and feelings around “commitment," and then they’d published the results. The reason I felt confused was that the questions did not seem to have anything to do with commitment: they had to do with monogamy.
I was listening to “Savage Love” recently, and Dan Savage (who is in a “monogamish” relationship with his husband, Terry) related a story about a conversation he had with Jenny McCartney when he was on “The View.” She got very upset at the idea that relationships should not necessarily be monogamous. Dan asked her why, and she said it was because she believed in love and commitment. But Jenny McCarthy has been married and engaged more times than you could count on both hands; Dan Savage has been with his husband for more than a decade. It begs the question: who is more committed?
Brock’s apartment in Los Angeles is in the hilly Echo Park neighborhood. With our half-day off yesterday, I wandered down to a bookstore/ coffee shop filled with stick-thin girls in beige cotton outfits and lightly used ‘60s-paper back editions of Dostoevsky novels. I’d been there before: my best friend Kim used to live in Echo Park, and when I visited her there two years ago, I met a bunch of her friends. Her friend Alex — a charming British puppeteer/ documentary filmmaker (I know, right?) — still lives there. I knew that because Alex and I have been devoted pen-pals for the last year. I texted him in the off-chance he’d have a minute to say hi, and he graciously dropped whatever he was doing to meet me for lunch.
We sat eating hot, doughy bread at Alex’s favorite restaurant (the waitstaff all know him by name), and took care of the requisite formalities. (“How’s the tour?” “It’s great; except for all the van-farting” “You’re van-farting or the other guys are?” “Everyone is van-farting. The van smells like a fart. Forever.”) Then we got into the conversational main event, as it always must be among single-ish friends: Our love lives.
I have not been in a monogamous relationship in almost three years. It feels really weird to write that, because for the ten years preceding my last serious break-up, I had been such a textbook serial monogamist that I always assumed I’d be married by the time I was 25. In some ways, I am made to be a girlfriend: I’m great at making dinner, planning dates, taking care of sick people, writing love letters, and remembering to call. I had, in fact, planned my wedding with each of the people I dated longterm. I would go to sleep at night thinking about that white dress; choosing my bridesmaids; imagining the boy telling me how I was the only one for him forever. I imagined him crying tears of joy. I imagined calling his parents “Mom and Dad.”
But all those relationships ended. My breaking-up-with to being-broken-up with ratio is about 50/50: things have always soured around the year-and-a-half mark, and I find myself back at square one. After my most recent longterm breakup, I did what all people do after they are dumped: I made a list of all the things that must be wrong with me, and decided I would never be good enough for anyone. Then, I started dating again, and I said what I had heard characters say in so many on-screen relationships: “I’m not ready for anything serious yet.” And while I SAID that, I didn’t mean it: all my relationships are serious. I love in capital letters. My romantic feelings are never casual. But by saying I wasn’t ready for anything serious, I found my (serious) relationships were more playful, and concluded more naturally. My heart didn’t feel so ripped up by the natural changes that took place in my dating life. At some point, I started to realize that the problem hadn’t necessarily been ME; the problem had been the strict rules and expectations I’d drawn around the idea of having “a boyfriend.”
My love life over the past three years has been interesting and fun. I have fallen in love since my last break-up, four times that I can count for sure. When the love has changed, I have been sad; but the world hasn’t ended. The bottom hasn’t fallen out in a long time.
The first time, I fell in love with a tall, intelligent, sad farmer who was friends with my roommate. I spent Saturday mornings lying on the stone floor of his outdoor living room, drinking the very dark coffee he made and listening to him play guitar. A year later, he told me he couldn’t sleep with me anymore, and I was crushed. But now (and I must emphasize that it didn't take very long) he is one of my closest friends, and we talk to each other about the people who date with ease. He still watches trashy TV with me in my bed on stretchy sunny weekends sometimes. That relationship feels strong and bright, and it’s easy to write about.
Two of the other instances are too recent and so they still hurt; they’re harder. But more than anything, I still feel a great deal of love for those people. The love has changed. The love doesn’t involve sex anymore. Right now, because the love was big and messy and confusing, there’s not a lot of talking. But things remain in tact. And also, they will change again. That’s really all I know for sure.
The fourth time, I fell in love with Ned. Ned is smart and funny and ambitious. He loves reading Greek tragedies and translating them into English; he reads a lot of tragedy in general; his celebrity crush is Ann Carson. He’s a terrific listener; he’s excellent with children; he listens to clashy, strangled contemporary instrumental compositions for fun. We had a fast connection: you know, all those into-the-night conversations; all that Facebook stalking. Ned is nice to me and there for me and he is interesting and engaging to me in all the right ways.
That’s pretty much what I told Alex, but I added one thing: we are not monogamous. Our relationship is open.
I self-identify as polyamorous, mostly because I want to de-stigmatize that word. Ned dates other people. I date other people. The other people know that Ned and I are dating. The relationships with the other people are not just casual hook-ups — they are serious, too. We are both the types of people who love a lot, and all over the board. We both like having long conversations that lead into more. Instead of restricting that to just-between-the-two-of-us, we have agreed to leave everything on the table. The only requirement in this relationship is honesty — to everyone involved and from everyone involved, all the time.
There have been growing pains. At first, we both got jealous. But the jealousy led to long and valuable conversations which led to deeper trust. In a recent Salon.com article about eliminating jealousy in polyamorous relationships, the writer posits that, “we can reduce jealousy by making it everyone’s responsibility to support and recognize all existing relationships within the community.” The same article quotes a polyamory website which says, "“polyamory encourages, allows, and almost demands that you be an individual first and foremost.” This relationship, for the first time in my life, is about taking care of myself and loving myself first and foremost; then trusting that Ned will do the same for himself; and then working together to build support and recognize not only each other, but the other people we are seeing.
At the end of the day, being in my own “monogamish” relationship feels like a pretty big commitment. It feels like I have a partner who is invested in his own happiness, just as he is invested in mine (and vice versa). That means being honest about what we want, and trusting each other to talk about it.
After my long speech about my polyamorous life, and fielding a bunch of questions, Alex said, “I have to believe that love is meeting one person, falling in love with them, and only wanting to be with them for the rest of your life.” And I get that. It’s a beautiful idea; it’s a sort of magic. And some people do make that work. I hope Alex finds it, and when we have lunch in 50 years, he can rub it in my face.
But I have to say: allowing myself to remove the restrictions from my relationships has been tremendously freeing. It’s allowed me to see love in shades of gray, rather than its default black-and-white. My heart feels like it has room. I have room to not be over my past loves yet (Ned is a good listener when I feel like I have to talk about that, or cry about that, or miss someone long gone; I think he feels the same for his past loves, too). I have room to love even more. And more than that, I feel a capacity for forgiveness for people who have left me in the past, who I might have previously felt angry at or flabbergasted by. We are all just human, loving as much as we can. We are not 90-minute romantic comedies. We have lots of time on this earth, and lots of space in our hearts to love lots of people in our time. For the first time in my life, that feels OK.
This morning, I texted Alex to see if it was OK for me to blog about our talk. He said “Of course,” and then followed up with, “I want to say I am sooooo happy you’re happy, and I support you 6.23 million percent.” At the end of the day, that’s humanity at its best: people wanting other people to be happy. Maybe that’s what love is. And the world benefits from it, no matter what.