The world of dating and relationships is always full of surprises (and, if your interested in dating men, more than a few unsolicited dick pics), but I still never cease to be confused and bewildered by the mating and dating rituals going on out there in the wild. I’ve been on a blind date where the guy picked me up for dinner, but I had to sit in the back seat…because his boyfriend was in the front. I went on a date with someone who artificially lowered his age by about 25 years, and when I told him I didn’t feel comfortable going out with someone approximately 40 years older than I was at the time, he offered to take me on a roadtrip in his RV and “spank [me] like a naughty grandchild.” I got catfished by a guy who lied about his race…and his ability to speak fluent English. I’ve heard all kinds of lies and half-truths and exaggerations that seem to be an inescapable part of the dating world.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the truth.
I’ve written a couple of times about the Puppy, a man I met through an online dating app who I’ve been seeing periodically for the last few years when I travel to Seattle or Phoenix (he splits his time between the two). He’s married, and in an open relationship. His husband knows about me, and before he comes to see me he gets permission. Everything is out in the open. Some people aren’t very aware of or comfortable with non-monogamy, and that’s ok, but if your first thought is that I’m a homewrecker or a side piece, you’re welcome to click that little “X” at the top of this article – I have nothing for you.
My last relationship was dating a man in a poly relationship; he had a boyfriend who had a wife, and I was sort of allowed to be a “free agent” with my nocturnal activities. It was a sweet, mostly uncomplicated relationship that met some of my needs during that time, and it allowed me to get a taste of what being in a non-monogamous relationship was like, but in the end I don’t think we “did” polyamory very well. I also learned that while I still think of non-monogamy as a possible option for my future romantic relationships, I’m not really great at solo polyamory.
Solo polyamory is when someone is part of a polyamorous relationship web, but they don’t have (either by circumstance or by design) a primary partner. Some people don’t want a primary partner; they would rather keep more of their independence and just be part of other relationships. Some people, like me, may prefer having a primary partner, but they hadn’t found one when they started dating the person who connected them to the poly network that they are in. I’m not an expert on this, and others might describe or talk about poly relationships differently, but this is how I’ve come to understand it. It’s also probably important to note that I see polyamory as a relationship structure, based in human behavior, rather than some sort of identity or orientation. We all have all kinds of desires and choose to organize those desires into relationships that meet our needs, but I don’t see being polyamorous as something that is part of our identity structure (like race or sexual orientation) so much as a kind of affiliation that we opt into (like religious/spiritual beliefs or political parties).
All of this setup is meant to demonstrate that I have thought a lot about polyamory and open relationships, and that I try to approach my relationship with the Puppy (and anyone else I engage with romantically or sexually) with ethical integrity and thoughtful consideration.
Because a few days ago, the Puppy invited me to his house for Christmas, and I’m feeling like I’ve lost my goddamn mind.
It was my second or third night in Phoenix and the Puppy came over to my hotel for some adult friend time. This part is simple. Our relationship has very specific boundaries and parameters, or so I thought. What I enjoy about him, besides the fact that the sex is truly amazing, is that in addition to being a fantastic, commanding, and responsive lover, he’s also kind of cuddly when we’re not engaged in “the act,” and a genuinely sweet guy. We’ve developed a fantastic rhythm that allows us to have great sex but also share a certain degree of emotional intimacy. He tells me about puppy activities that he takes part in, like workshops and “moshes,” and I tell him about projects that I’m working on like my podcasts and what I worry about at work. I haven’t told him that I’ve written about him, and I feel a little bit guilty, but that’s a conversation for another time. On this visit he told me about how a close friend had just passed away from cancer, and he and his husband were having houseguests this week and preparing for the service. He didn’t cry, but he let me hold him a little longer and a little tighter before it was time to go.
As he was getting dressed, he asked me how long I was going to be in town, and I told him that my trip was planned for 6 weeks. He seemed surprised that I was going to be spending Christmas and New Years here. I told him that my original plan had been to fly home for a couple of days for Christmas and then come back but that the flights had been outrageously expensive, so I was just going to be spending the holidays here.
Then he said something like, “Well, I’m not sure what we’re doing, but most years we have a ‘hobo Christmas’ for friends who don’t have anywhere else to go, no family around or they don’t get along with their family. If we do that again, you’re welcome to join us.”
I hope my face didn’t look as confused as my brain felt, but I was pretty sure I was having a stroke. Listen: I may spend a lot of time thinking and analyzing and over-intellectualizing pretty much everything in my life, but that doesn’t automatically make me good at being a grown up. There is no adult steering this ship, and no matter how sophisticated or progressive I think I am, my brain just couldn’t process the idea of spending Christmas with my married lover and his husband and their group of friends, in their home.
I’m not going to detail all of the awkward and bizarre scenarios that ran through my head, but if you can imagine it, it was probably somewhere in the mix. Some of my thoughts were more than a little unkind, and I’m ashamed of them. Amidst all of the confusion, there was also some hurt – not because his invitation was hurtful, but because it was sweet and thoughtful, and it was a reminder of all the things this relationship was never going to be.
None of the people I’ve dated before have been like the Puppy. Most of the times, I have to choose between emotional intimacy or great sex. Most of the men I meet who are good lovers are flops when it comes to anything non-physical; they’re more than happy to zip up and hit the road before any of the “mushy stuff” happens. And most of the men who I’ve found emotional connections with have been disappointing in the bedroom. I’ve dealt with that by keeping those two areas of my emotional life fairly separate, perhaps to my detriment. The Puppy is the one person in my life who really straddles that line, and occasionally crosses it, but this time it went farther beyond the boundary than was comfortable.
I’ve spent so much of my life separating out the friends from the lovers, and I’m not sure how to bring those two separate ideas back together, how to find a person who is going to be able to bridge that gap in a way that feels comfortable and safe. But the Puppy has shown me that they don’t have to be separate, and that’s the joy and the heartbreak that he brings into my life every time I see him.
It’s a gift that I treasure. But I still have to RSVP “No” to that party.