My relationship history is all over the map in terms of structure. My very first serious relationships from 13-18 were all pretty standard. Didn’t last long, but all were fraught with heartfelt emotions and intimacy. I loved hard and often. I deeply loved my best friend, and realized then that I was probably bisexual, but didn’t do anything about it. The relationships I had with boys/men were always monogamous. I was a teen in the 80’s and I grew up with the standard cliches of what mono values looked like; jealousy is a metric of how much they care, stalking is a form of love, when they ask you to “Be Mine” it’s an achievement, and when they don’t give up and cross all your boundaries, it’s because they truly love you. Lots to unpack there, but I’ll focus on what I learned from the mono-normative programming around what a HEALTHY monogamous relationship looks like.
A healthy MONO relationship, I was taught, looks basically like codependence. Those were also the models I witnessed, of course now I know that these were not healthy relationships, but at the time, I didn’t. The ideal was when your partner wanted to spend all of their time with you, that no one else in the world mattered as much to them as you, and that you only had eyes for each other. You did EVERYTHING together. YOU WERE AS ONE. I was striving to find that person who literally “couldn’t live” without me. Romeo and Juliet stuff.
So I searched for and you know what? I found ALL the jealous, co-dependent, truly insecure AND unable-to-manage-their-emotions men who were jealous, stalked me and wanted possession of and control over me. Just to clarify, I have no problem with someone being insecure, as long as they’re able to articulate what’s happening and are VULNERABLE enough to share it with me and courageous enough to do the personal work. When someone can’t do those things, they are often literally out of control and there is no way they can regulate themselves and no way for them to LEARN how if they aren’t willing to Do.The.Work.
I had poor models of what healthy relating looks like, and I had some pretty negative experiences supported by the pop culture norms of BAD BEHAVIOUR in romance. In other words, I had no idea what I was doing! I was engaged 4 times from ages 18-22. I was hot on the trail of seeking out the ULTIMATE romantic relationship structure – MARRIAGE. I married at 22 and my husband asked to open our relationship a year later. I was shocked and felt set aside. BUT I rose to the challenge, said yes and took it upon myself to be the first to start dating. No way was I going to be the one sitting at home!! (Ah, yes, good ol’ vengeance dating! Ugh.) As it turned out, I was the only one dating and for nearly 2 years, I was the hinge in a V, and it was both wonderful and horrifying. I was wracked with guilt and shame as my feelings for my lover grew. I was “supposed” to be monogamous at heart, I thought. I wasn’t “allowed” to feel these things even though my husband assured me he was fine with it. Then my lover asked me to leave my husband because he wanted me to be “HIS”. His ultimatum was the “sign” of “true love” I thought I wanted and needed, so I left my husband for him.
Thus ended my first polyamorous experience. In heartache. But here’s the kicker – I was in heartache while in the poly V relationship as well!
I entered into a decade of monogamy. I was faithful in my second marriage…mostly. I wanted to be. I was motivated to be because I wanted to “do it right”. But internally I felt limited, especially after I gained weight and fell into a depression because my husband refused to touch me. For four years. So I cheated. I cheated with someone I’d loved since I was 4 years old, who I dated briefly at 18 before he left to travel the world. I felt seen and heard and valued. And loved. My needs weren’t being met by the person I married. I divorced for a second time.
My lover this time was married and polyamorous. We had a long distance relationship, and I also had a lovely connection, both physically and emotionally with his wife. For all intents and purposes I referred to us as a Triad, though we mostly operated as a V. I was monogamous to him for some of that time as I recovered from my separation, managed a couple of moves and helped my daughter adjust. Then I wanted to date. And I did. A LOT. And I fell in love too, or at least deep, deep lust. Many of these other connections were like FWB until the connection deepened. I ended a connection because my LD poly partner became jealous and he was my priority. My second polyamorous experience ended with heartache too. But it wasn’t because of the structure of our relationship, but because the distance wasn’t manageable after a few years.
NOTE: A LOT of poly folx like me experience jealousy and compersion (happiness for your partner’s happiness with another) at the SAME TIME. You can access our EMPOWERED POLY Podcast on “Jealousy” and “Compersion” through my Link Tree: https://linktr.ee/LeanneMillion.
So…I slid right back into monogamy with my third husband. We were together for 7 years. And might have stayed together, but circumstances made it impossible. During the time we were together, I never felt the need to stray…until our communication started to wither and we’d been in therapy for 2 years and NOTHING was changing. It felt like I was doing all the heavy lifting in the relationship. So I ended it. I’m all for putting in the time and I’m very committed to improving a relationship, but I was exhausted trying to do it alone. More heartache.
Something interesting was happening… I was starting to reframe heartache as kind of the price of admission to love. Because, as I began to realize, we ALL leave a relationship at some point. Change is inevitable. Beginning something invites an end ultimately.
When my third marriage ended I reintroduced myself to my polyamorous side and found my current husband. Even in that relationship, I’ve had years of monogamy – either together with him intentionally or while he was polyamorous. We are now, after years of doing the work separately and together in the HEALHIEST relationship I’ve known. I have personal boundaries and so does he and we have relationship agreements that guide our journey in ways we both want and value. I have a boyfriend I care about deeply and I feel supported, heard, seen and valued by both of these wonderful humans.
How did I realize that I’m Ambiamorous? Usually one hears “I’m Ambiamorous because I can be HAPPY in either mono or poly relationships” – and bless them for having that experience. At first glance, the term made sense intellectually (just looking at my history) but it didn’t quite resonate emotionally. I do feel happy…SOMETIMES… and I also experience SOME level of discomfort in ALL of my relationships much of the time. Why? Because I feel insecure and threatened when I’m in a polyamorous relationship and I feel limited and guilty for wanting others when I’m in a monogamous relationship. For me, it’s a condition of relating that I am in a constant internal dialogue – reassuring my mono side that I’m loved or fighting my own guilt when I’m in a poly dynamic, OR I’m repressing my desire for connection to others and feeling trapped when I’m monogamous.
Coming to terms with that reality and STILL identifying as Ambi has been an instrumental part of my growth and self awareness. Not only did I feel all of the above described emotions in whatever relationship dynamic I was in, BUT in addition to those feelings, I felt WRONG. Incapable. Broken. Like I just couldn’t quite get it right, you know?
When I learned the term Ambiamorous, and explored more about jealousy and compersion, I concluded that happiness can exist alongside discomfort. A light switch went on and I could suddenly see the entire room I was inhabiting, partitioned smack down the middle between two opposing relationship ideologies, complete with their own set of values and norms and expectations. Now that I can see all of it, I can recognize what’s happening and ACCEPT that this is who I am, how I function and how I relate.
That doesn’t mean I stop working on learning tools and strategies to manage my feelings – on the contrary! With that newfound awareness I can do that so much more effectively. I can walk about the entire room of my identity and pick up it’s various parts and closely examine them and learn about them. I can pull back the partition and fully appreciate the things I value in BOTH polyamory and monogamy. I can tell when I start to spend too much time playing in the judgement zone of either place, where my inner critic starts calling the other side “BAD”. I’m more able to step back from that and enjoy the positives of simply being WHO I AM.
If you want help with your identity journey in relationships, reach out.