‘I think monogamy is the reason a lot of relationships fail,’ my then-boyfriend – let’s call him Bob – mused one day as we relaxed with some beers after a particularly passionate lovemaking session. My stomach knotted and a cold sweat prickled across my skin. I knew what was coming next. ‘It’s cool if we see other people, right?’ I’d had a feeling the constant jokes about threesomes masked something deeper, and I was right.
This was not what I wanted but, smitten, I went along with it. I slept with someone else the very next week because I was convinced it wouldn’t be long until Bob was doing the same but I couldn’t take my mind off him while I was doing it. Ironically, as far I could gauge, Bob only ever used his own new-found ‘freedom’ to send dick pics to girls online. But that was bad enough. Our relationship crumbled.
Yep, my one and only stab at polyamory – the practice of openly having multiple sexual relationships with the consent of everyone involved – was a disaster. Jealousy consumed me and I wasn’t interested in seeing other people because I only had eyes for Bob.
But for some people, a polyamorous relationship is the only way they can feel happy. Gloria Jackson-Nefertiti is one of those people and she agreed to tell COSMO her story.
‘I have a boyfriend who I’ve been with for nine years, and another male partner I’ve been seeing for a few years now who I describe as my “more than a play partner”,’ she says. ‘I love them both very much. They’re great friends with each other, too – I’ve even fooled around with them both at the same time before. My boyfriend has been married to his wife for two years, though they’ve been in a relationship for more than 15, and I sang at his wedding. He also has another girlfriend. Everyone is definitely okay with each other!’
It sounds as though there is a hierarchy of relationships in this situation, though. ‘A lot of poly people talk about primary, secondary, tertiary partners but I don’t really use that terminology,’ she says. “Technically my partner and his wife are in a “primary” relationship – they’re married and she’s on his insurance and their finances are mingled, but I don’t like to think of myself as secondary because that makes it seem like I’m less important. That’s definitely not the case. I remember last year when I was going through cancer treatments my boyfriend came with me when I had my surgeries and doctors visits. Obviously I’m very important to him.’
Jealousy is still an issue for Gloria but she’s learnt to deal with it. ‘Some people say there’s no place for jealousy in poly relationships and if you get jealous you’re not really poly but that’s absolutely not true,’ she says. ‘Several years ago I was dating this guy who was also dating someone else, and I was jealous so I just told him. I just came out with it. I didn’t put him down, I never at any point told him he couldn’t see the other woman. I just stated my feelings. He shamed me for feeling jealous. It’s so different in my present relationships, though. I find that after I talk about it the jealousy seems to go away!’
Gloria first discovered the existence of polyamory through a friend. ‘I was very socially awkward and had trouble finding just one relationship – but she had all these people paying her attention and I was so envious! I remember her telling me how great it was to receive so much nurturing. It took me a while to get to the point she was at, though, and I definitely made some mistakes on my journey.’
One of those mistakes was to try to use polyamory to mend a failing relationship. ‘I was in a relationship that started out as monogamous and after a year or two we began having some issues – I won’t go into details. My boyfriend said, “I wonder whether it would help if we opened up our relationship”, so we did. I started seeing other people. He didn’t because it wasn’t something he was interested in.’ This ‘solution’ proved to be anything but. ‘In the poly community they refer to it as “relationship broken, add more people”. That’s something you really don’t want to do. If you’re having issues in your relationship, bringing in more people is not the answer.’
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How do Gloria’s friends and family feel about her relationship setup? ‘Most of my friends are okay with it because they’re really open-minded,’ she says. ‘My family, not so much. They’re very religious. When I told my older sister, she immediately tried to warn me off, saying it would bring all kinds of problems – even though she didn’t really know very much about it.’ Gloria believes her sister’s negative view of polyamory stemmed in part from sensationalist portrayals of the lifestyle in the media, on talk shows in particular. ‘A lot of coverage of polyamory is really drama-ridden,’ she says. ‘Although things are definitely getting better. I’ve seen some brilliant articles The New York Times, for example, and on Huffington Post that have been really objective.’
Does she have any advice for COSMO readers who might be curious about exploring a poly lifestyle? ‘To anyone thinking of trying polyamory, I’d say do a Google search and look for poly events in your area. If you’re already in a relationship you will, of course, have to enter into a careful dialogue with your partner about whether or not this is a path you’re both happy to follow. If you’re single, you might want to try to find a partner who is already poly so you won’t have to spend a lot of time explaining.’
It’s not for everyone but it seems for many people polyamory can be a fulfilling and positive experience, which they find suits their needs far better than monogamy. ‘I really couldn’t imagine living any other way,’ Gloria says. ‘Poly has always felt more natural to me. If I were ever to really hit it off with someone and they wanted me to be monogamous, I’d have to say no. I would never break up with my partners just to be with them.’
This article was originally published on Cosmopolitan.co.uk