Tomorrow, I’m celebrating two years with one of my partners. A lot of people view polyamory as something that’s somehow inherently contradictory with commitment, as if “commitment” is synonymous with “monogamy.” But even as we reject the dominant paradigm of romance, the reality is that we’re perfectly capable of making commitments, too. Far from the opposite of commitment, for many of us poly means making more commitments.
One of my partners and I have been together for over 16 years, and have been legally married for nearly 11. My other partner and I have been talking a lot lately about having some kind of wedding/commitment ceremony, something I’ve pondered in the past. I can understand and relate to all of the radical queer objections to same-sex marriage; I am skeptical of marriage as a state institution, and also skeptical of assimilation into problematic and normative patterns. Marriage as we know it is heteronormative and patriarchal in its origins, and the romanticization of finding “the one” and living happily ever after is at least partially to blame for the way that monogamy is placed on a pedestal.
But despite of these criticisms, I love love. I am, in some ways, very traditionally romantic. It does matter to me to identify certain people as my partners. It matters to me to plan a life and a future with them. However normative it might be, I want commitment. I want to be able to talk about “forever.” I respect and appreciate people who are able to take a more open approach to relationships, allowing people to fluidly move in and out of their lives, or from one role in their lives to another. But for me, being poly doesn’t mean completely abandoning all fairy-tale notions of love. It just means that my happily-ever-after looks a little different than most.
Not too long ago, one of my partners and I were talking about how excited we are to be spending our lives together, and also how great it is that we don’t know exactly what our lives will look like 10 or 20 years from now. In some ways, it’s the best of both worlds: I have the stability of commitment, without the limitations. We know, with as much certainty as humans are capable of, that we want to be together for the rest of our lives. But that says nothing about what else we might want someday, or what kind of intimate experiences we might share with others along the way. We are committed to each other, and one component of that is a commitment is to grow and change and adapt to new things that might come our way. To me, one of the greatest benefits of polyamory is that it means not needing to choose between the security of lifelong commitment, and the possibility of having new romantic and sexual experiences throughout our lives. If I was only interested in the constant availability of new partners and lovers, I could have simply remained “unattached.” But the truth is that I want to be attached. I just want to be attached in a way that feels expansive instead of limiting.
I have heard people say that non-monogamy sounds unromantic, that it is simply too pragmatic a way to approach relationships. But to me, polyamory is not about some cold, ideological calculation. It is about nothing more than it’s about love. I don’t believe in anything like fate or soul mates, but I am madly, passionately, deeply in love with both of my partners, and I believe they’re the closest things to soul mates a person can have. I can’t imagine my life without either of them in it. I can’t imagine a world in which I was forced to choose.
Even with all of my awareness of the problematic social construction of marriage, the harms done in the name of romance and love, I cannot help but daydream about what this “wedding” will look like. I’m reading Offbeat Bride and thinking about dresses. I know how artificially manufactured “weddings” as we know them are. But I live within this society, and whether I want to or not, I do care about standing up in front of my friends and family and saying—in culturally legible ways—this is love, too. And it’s as real as yours.
At the end of the day, I don’t have any interest in un-romanticizing anything. I’m all for believing in true love, making commitments, declaring that love and commitment before the world. Rather than asking people to abandon old notions of love and commitment and family and romance, I’m far more interested in fighting for an expanded definition of what those things mean. I believe that we can take the old traditions and infuse them with whatever meaning we choose, as long as we are conscious and intentional about doing so. And for me, love is all the more meaningful when it is freely given. In the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley: “Love withers under constraints: its very essence is liberty: it is compatible neither with obedience, jealousy, nor fear: it is there most pure, perfect, and unlimited where its votaries live in confidence, equality and unreserve.”
These past two years have been the best, happiest, most fulfilling years of my life, and never have I been more excited to see what the future looks like. I’ll avoid going on at the kind of sappy, still-smitten-after-two-years lengths that I realize can be a little nausea-inducing at times. But I dare anyone to try to tell me that polyamory is un-romantic, that non-monogamy is incompatible with love.