“i love you.” It’s a simple enough sentence… single-syllable words, subject-verb-object… writing it barely occupies any space at all. But this tiny, seemingly insignificant declarative sentence is one of the most powerful in the English language. It has the ability to create in a person an entire emotional gamut, running from blissful happiness, through smoldering rage, all the way to insurmountable sorrow. Its meaning can also vary, whether it describes the emotional connection of a relative, a platonic friendship so close as to be second only to family (though this usage is seldom seen nowadays, given many people’s hangups about gender norms and sexual preference), or the emotional connection between romantic partners. The potency of this tiny little group of words is almost without measure. They are like an incantation… three magic words that can make or break a person’s entire world.
For the purposes of this particular writing, i will focus on that last meaning i mentioned: the emotional connection between romantic partners. It is probably the most readily associated meaning of the three magic words in our modern culture, and it is the one that applies to what i am writing about today.
Culturally we are taught that the three magic words should be used with care. They are potentially dangerous, and it is best to wait to use them until you are absolutely sure that you really mean them and that this isn’t just some passing fancy or “lust disguising itself as love”… and you need to make sure that you only use the words with one person (or at least one person at any given time). We are taught that this is the one right way to handle ourselves in romantic relationships, it is hammered into us by society and for many it becomes a point of tension with our basic nature, especially for those of us who are polyamorous.
To me, “polyamorous” means nothing more than the capacity to feel real romantic love for more than one person at a time. It’s not necessarily an adjective to describe an action (such as being in a polyamorous relationship); it’s an adjective to describe a person. i think polyamory is an orientation, and much like whether someone is gay, straight, bisexual, or somewhere in between, i think there is a scale that everyone falls on naturally (much like i think that the Vanilla/BDSM divide is a grayscale array of orientations as well). By this definition, a person who is polyamorous could very well be involved in a monogamous relationship and might find themselves completely fulfilled by it, but they would still basically be a polyamorous person and open to the idea of a more open arrangement if it should present itself.
Making it about the people instead of their actions also removes a lot of the need to try to create a “poly relationship.” A polyamorous couple can relax, focus on sharing their emotional connection, and if they decide to bring others in it will happen naturally when they really click with someone. They don’t have to try to force it and use unnecessary energy or stress themselves out constantly seeking someone else. i could talk a lot more about my thoughts on how polyamory can be quite healthy, but most of it has to do with dropping the idea of labels and just letting people be people, connecting to whatever extent naturally occurs and not being afraid or jealous of expressing it (and when fear or jealousy do inevitably occur, communicating openly about it). Anyway, that’s not what this particular blog post is about and i could get very sidetracked with that, so…
This seems to make sense to me, because i know it is true of myself in particular. i’ve never been perfectly comfortable with the three magic words, because i always want to use them “too soon” by the standards of cultural conditioning. It has, in the past, scared off partners when i have used it too quickly, and to be perfectly honest i have sometimes used it too soon even for myself in some of those “lust disguised as love” situations. And sometimes i have used it when i felt the real thing based on incomplete information, which, when revealed bit me in the ass pretty hard. But the fact of the matter regardless is that i have a tendency to fall fast and hard for someone, and often enough “someone” is actually “someones.”
…but is it the real thing? How do i know, i mean really know, that it isn’t just more “lust disguised as love?” i mean, lust definitely plays a part… as it should in any romantic love… but in order to really call it love it needs something more, right? Generally i’ve found that love is separated from mere lust by a couple of factors. The first is a desire to be with the person in question in non-sexual or non-potentially-sexual situations (note that i do not mean completely non-affectionate by this, because cuddling is good anytime…). It is a desire to see them just to see them, even if you know nothing physical will come of it, or even when it’s just for a few minutes between things. It is also a desire to be with them in a “future-tense” sort of sense, not the in-the-moment “present-tense” hunger engendered by lust (though they can, and often do, coexist to wonderful effect). The second factor is usually characterized by the willingness to sacrifice one’s own comfort or happiness (or at least one’s own plans or agendas) for their happiness.
By these standards, i would say that i currently feel “real love” to one extent or another for three people, and i find that i would like to express this to them. This is where it gets complicated for me, because of a combination of my shyness, my history of using the three magic words not turning out so well, and the cultural conditioning with which we are all programmed to greater or lesser degree. My main worry is not that i will say the three magic words and they will prove to be mistaken; my worry is the reactions that they might provoke… the possible rejection that might occur. Two of these individuals are in other relationships right now, and even though they are all in the BDSM community in at least some small part, i have played with them all, and they are all poly friendly, i’m not sure exactly how they will react to my actually using the words. i have actually used the words with the third, but i think that she might have misinterpreted my intended meaning to be more of the “almost family platonic friends” variety. In any event, i’m not sure how she would react with me saying, “No, seriously…” and explaining.
It mostly comes down to the cultural conditioning, if i’m being perfectly honest. i’m afraid that if i use the words they will feel like i am trying to “move in on” their current relationships or otherwise feel threatened. i absolutely do not want to do that… if my feelings will threaten them, then i would rather keep them to myself… i hate the labels of “primary” and “secondary” that many poly people use, because i feel like it defines the relationship to death, but in those terms i would not want to become a primary to any of them. They already have established those for themselves. The problem is that i don’t currently have anyone who i would classify as a “primary” if i actually used those shitty labels, so that might make them think that i’m looking for more time commitment from them than they are able to give… which right now is not what i’m looking for. i am perfectly happy being “the other guy” for a few people right now, especially with things like work and my Master’s Degree eating up so much of my time and energy anyway. i don’t know… i’m probably overcomplicating things myself, which i tend to do.
This is notwithstanding the fact that i know they are open-minded types. My shyness and my fear of conflict and confrontation make me fear using the words that i often feel singing within me. The words want to get out, but i keep them locked up, because i fear what might happen if they do escape. In a way i am forcing myself to accept the “occasional play partner” relationship as it currently stands, because i am afraid of losing even that if i voice the rest of it… Someday i will have to overcome this fear of communicating under stress if i am to succeed in a relationship at all, let alone bringing in both BDSM and polyamory… Perhaps finding my voice with these three will be a good first step?