A scene that wraps up the first half of the movie Gone With the Wind has stuck itself like gum under the desk of my mind for years. Scarlett O’Hara returns to her home, Tara, only to find it pillaged and barren. At rock bottom, she trudges along the field and finds a single carrot in the ground, which she lunges for wildly and desperately begins eating. She gets up, the music crescendos, and with fierce indignation, she cries: “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”
First of all, fuck the romanticization of plantations and the slavery era south. That being said, there is something about just that single line that comes up for me again and again.
At 18 years old, a man hit on me at a Barnes and Noble. He was 14 years my senior and would become my first boyfriend in a toxic relationship that lasted 5 years.
A meaty memoir could be filled regarding the details of that relationship, but it would be a waste of space here. Rather, I’d like to focus on the one good thing that came out of that dumpster fire: being introduced to ethical non-monogamy.
As a child of divorce raised by a working single mother, I became disillusioned with conventional romance at a young age. My parents’ relationship had ended poorly and my mother would eventually go through a new boyfriend every year or two. Those almost always ended poorly, as well. (She did eventually get re-married, though, and they are still together and seem fairly happy with one another.)
Sometime during my adolescence, whenever I encountered a love triangle on TV, a conundrum would brew in my mind: if both partners are seemingly good for him/her, why don’t they come up with some sort of arrangement to share? Surely, there’s some way they can all be happy together? Two great partners are better than one, right? (These days, I call it the “porque no los dos” solution.) I never extroverted these thoughts to anyone. What insight could my fellow teen peers give me? Or the purely monogamous adults in my life? Would I even be capable of presenting my case clearly or would it come out as idiotic babble? I’d likely only be met with shame and judgment and perhaps exclusion anyway. It felt best to shelve those musings in the back of my mind.
A few months into my freshman year of college, the Barnes and Noble man recommended I read the book Sex At Dawn. I would later find out it was because he was already dating a woman at the time – also my age and in another state – and wanted to rope me into his own freshly embarked non-monogamy journey. If only present day Michelle could have given freshman Michelle a primer on spotting red flags.
Despite these tricky maneuverings, when I dove into the book, wave after wave of relief and revelation washed over me. My adolescent ponderings were retrieved from the shelves and dusted off, given new life. All my misgivings about monogamy that had been restlessly kicking about in my mind for years finally clicked into a framework that made sense. Non-monogamy in humans has existed for thousands of years. It really is possible to rectify those love triangles. This flung a door open to a world of possibilities I couldn’t even fully imagine yet. I felt seen.
However, while newly validated and excited to explore this foreign territory, I was certainly naive and bit off much more than I could chew in my first relationship with this 32 year old. Lessons were learned the hard way, lines carved through my head and heart with the trowel of emotional trauma.
In those five years, I lived with him, was codependent with him, and allowed him to make me think I was less capable and worth less than I actually was.
That was two years ago, approaching three.
Today, I find pieces of myself still much the same yet overall undeniably different. With my ex, I thought I had to resign to a hierarchical relationship with a primary who was emotionally stunted – and who turned out to ultimately not be fit for polyamory. (Surprise, surprise – he wanted to shamelessly flirt and sleep around without consequence but became more difficult and hostile when I started dating successfully about two years in. I’d later learn this is quite common.)
I am solo polyamorous. Definitions vary depending on who you ask, but to me it fundamentally means the following: I choose not to live with any partners or pool major financial resources; and my boundaries around my independence are a top personal priority. In addition, I work to actively practice relationship anarchy, which involves throwing away the relationship escalator, dismantling traditional societal rules around relating, and treating each dynamic as unique – one size does not fit all.
This is not to say that I’m against entering into and developing deep, committed relationships. On the contrary, I live this way precisely because I love said relationships and I believe shedding the contrived morals behind love/friendship/what-have-you is the way to achieve this. Being a solo polyam relationship anarchist allows me the freedom to experience all sorts of people. And I create my own expectations and set my own boundaries with these people I choose to relate with. Long term relationships aren’t necessarily more valid than one night stands. They’re just different, apples and oranges. All my relationships are equally valid and none of them have to pass some milestone or check off a specific set of criteria to be meaningful. No one person has to be perfect. I can admire and cherish each individual for what they bring to the table without trying to play relationship bookkeeper, tallying ways they would be inadequate as “the one.” Nor do I have to worry about being “the one.” We are what we are. We are enough.
And the most important lesson I’ve learned regarding relationships these past eight years: I never have to settle.
I deserve to be heard, to be seen, to be experienced authentically and without fear. I no longer have the time nor the energy to trifle with people who underestimate my worth. Suffering fools gladly is so last season – and never should have been a trend. These are my hard limits. Recognizing and harnessing the power of my autonomy is a continual process and I can never go back to accepting less. I already lived through that; it’s too unbearable. I was introduced to non-monogamy under less than ideal terms, starved of healthy boundaries, love, and communication. As each year passes, it becomes more and more clear to me that polyamory is and forever will be a core given as part of my being. It’s part of how I’ll thrive, how I provide for myself a movable feast. For as god is my witness, I will never be hungry again.
You can find Michelle (Polyamorous While Asian) on IG: @polyamorouswhileasian
Image via: DIPSEA (IG: @dipseastories)