I had to pull over because I couldn’t see through my tears. I called my girlfriend and said I needed to tell her something important. I’d be over in an hour, I said. I hung up, wiped the tears away and drove to her apartment.
I had just cheated on her — no more than six hours earlier — and my 17-year-old self couldn’t handle the guilt. I had to tell her.
She was my first girlfriend, and I loved her the way you can only love your first: unconditionally, naively and with sheer optimism.
When I told her I cheated, she laughed. She said she figured I would cheat at some point. That’s what boys my age do. As long as I didn’t love anyone else, then it didn’t matter to her. She knew I loved her, and physical contact with someone else didn’t change that.
I was dumbstruck. I made it clear to her that my response would not be the same if she cheated on me. I would see it as betrayal.
The second time I cheated on her, I broke up with her. I knew something about the relationship wasn’t fulfilling me if I cheated on her … twice.
After that relationship, I moved from one monogamous relationship to the next. After my breakup with another girlfriend when I was 23, I embraced my bisexuality — and my outlook on relationships changed.
The thought of being in another monogamous relationship was enough to make me feel nauseated. I worried I would cheat again and let another partner down. Once I identified as bisexual, I no longer felt the need to abide by traditional, heteronormative measures that define what a “good” relationship is “supposed” to look like. I also began to realize that, like my sexuality, my relationship style could also be fluid.
I avoided labeling my relationships and did my best to avoid any talks that could lead to monogamy. I made it clear to my partners that, while we’re dating, I was still dating other people, too, and I wanted my partners to date other people as well. Still, two guys asked me to be monogamous. I told both of them I couldn’t, bringing one of them to tears.
That’s when I realized that dating in this gray area doesn’t do anyone justice. It just hurts folks even more.
Then, unexpectedly, I met Jason, who told me he was polyamorous — meaning that he dated and was open to loving more than one person simultaneously. And he was honest with all his partners about it. I was fascinated. After getting to know him and polyamory better, I came to the conclusion that dating Jason would be ideal. I could be open about my feelings, date other people, but still have a real relationship. I could be committed without being monogamous. It sounded like a win-win.
Still, I knew polyamory wouldn’t just be an excuse to cheat. I knew it would require work, honesty and communication to engage in this type of ethically non-monogamous relationship with Jason. But I wanted to give it a shot.
So we dated. It was fabulous. I moved in with him and his wife last September, and it’s been a wonderful experience. I was able to keep a sense of independence and freedom, while at the same time have a meaningful relationship.
Recently, however, Jason and I broke up. I’m moving to New York in June, and we both realized that our relationship had become more of a friendship. While this worked for me, he wanted a love where you lose yourself in the other person. Not just any other person, but me.
I haven’t and couldn’t give him that because I am still figuring out who I am. I can’t lose myself in another person. So we decided that a friendship was the better route. I still live with him (and his wife) and will do so until I move to New York. Sure, there’s some tension, but all things considered, it’s not that bad.
So I’m single again. I’ve been a cheater. I’ve been monogamous. I’ve dated casually, avoiding labels (and commitment), and I’ve been polyamorous. At each point in my life, I’ve engaged in the relationship style that I needed. That I thought was best for me.
I might not be polyamorous forever. I could find myself in an open relationship, where we sleep with other people but don’t get into relationships with several people. Or I may go back to a monogamous relationship once I’ve met the “right person.” Or I may stop dating altogether.
I don’t know what the future holds. However, I do know that being sexually fluid has changed my mind-set about what kind of relationship might be best for me. I’ve learned that I’m not simply monogamous or polyamorous. I’m not a cheater or faithful. I’m all of it. These various facets of my identity don’t contradict one another. Rather, they simply come out at different points in my life.